Reader's Exchange

August 2009 - Posts

Book of virtue?

I don't own any of the "So Many Books, So Little Time" paraphernalia marketed to librarians and other book lovers.  I'm not sure whether it's because those items are so common as to be no longer fun or because they sound a little boastful.

A love of reading belongs in the same category as being a natural early riser (an oxymoron, in my opinion) or preferring broccoli over brownies--preferences often mistaken for virtues, which they clearly are not.  In each case, the individual behaves in the manner most comfortable to him/her.  Also, in each instance the reader, early bird, or vegetable aficionado is rewarded--with entertainment and knowledge, the appearance of a great work ethic, and nutrition.  Isn't virtue supposed to be its own reward?

My husband presented my daughter and me with tickets to last night's performance of Wicked.  We set out for the event quite early, wishing to avoid any anxiety associated with traffic or parking.  Arriving well ahead of time, we settled into our seats with knitting (daughter) and a just-published novel (me).  During intermission, the novel came out again, and I immersed myself almost instantly in a pivotal middle chapter--so much so that, when the curtain began to rise again, signaling the continuation of the wonderfully entertaining production, I admit that my first instinctive reaction was "Awwww, guess I'll have to finish this later."  At least I didn't say it aloud.

 Love reading?  Yes.  Proud of it?  Sometimes, not so much! 

The art of book reviewing

I've been reading on the job this week--not current fiction of my choice, alas, but dozens and dozens of book reviews.  Distilling a useful critique into a brief paragraph represents such an admirable skill set; I rarely tire of scanning those little gems.  Some phrases seem particularly useful for conveying literary merit.

Lengthy novels, for example, are frequently promoted as "a sweeping tale of..."  I like a good sweeper as much as the next reader but have learned to note who makes that assertion.  When a reviewer elects the description, it generally signifies an ambitious but ultimately satisfying scope.  The identical claim from a publisher may indicate that the writer's reach has exceeded his/her grasp.

Some books "take you into the world of..."  This verbiage prompts me to examine the review more closely: is that setting/premise unique or revelatory--or just obscure?

When a review charitably observes that "the author does manage to...." I anticipate a "but" or "however" a few lines further down the page.

And then there's "unrelentingly", a term that bodes more favorably for comic book heroes than for novelists.  If I ever create a work of fiction, it will likely be deemed "a sweeping tale of unrelentingly inept literary ambition that takes you into the world of first-time publication (in which the author does manage to...")

Everything in moderation, especially cats

You can spot library staffers by their official City of Round Rock badges.  Otherwise, we're not easily identifiable for anyone expecting a crew of cardigan and sensible shoe-clad ladies of a certain age.  Some library folks are male, many are young, and no one wears a bun (you're more likely to spy the occasional tattoo).  We'll admit to some stereotypical behavior: a few in our midst require the classic librarian bifocals; we often try to work in a couple of chapters during lunch breaks; and we discuss and consume considerably more literature than the average work group.

But that's where we draw the line.  No one owns a dozen-plus cats or spends much time alphabetizing our home bookshelves.  A typical day, evening, or weekend off for us is likely to involve hiking, bicycyling, marathon running, playing soccer, serving on museum boards and committees, planning weddings, writing a dissertation, keeping up with children's or grandchildren's activities, or undertaking ambitious DIY projects--for starters.  So, when we carve out time to read, we read fast, and we choose well!

These titles have earned places in our busy lives this week:

  • Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine trilogy
  • The Gardner Heist: The Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrlich Boser
  • Magician: Apprentice by Raymond Feist
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Shakey: Neil Young's Biography by Jimmy McDonough
  • The Facilitative Leader in City Hall by James Savra
  • The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit
  • The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
  • The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
  • Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
  • The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
  • I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World by Jag Bhalla
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
  • John Dillinger: Public Enemy #1
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
  • Sam Bass and Gang by Rick Miller
  • The Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality by Barbara Bradley




When nothing but second best will do

We're frequently asked for reading advice--which author to try if you've finished everything by your favorite writer, which book comes first in a series (and whether that matters)--but almost never queried for listening suggestions.   Most readers have assessed their needs in this case, whether it's suspenseful fiction to prevent drowsiness or an assigned classic to facilitate multi-tasking.  My requirement is even more practical.  

Audiobooks usually correlate with navigation--road trips, commuting, fitness walking.  If you are as directionally challenged as I, you are obliged to devote extra attention to the goal of reaching your destination on the first try.  When walking a familiar route, I may safely choose any sort of audio literature, secure in the knowledge that muscle memory will deliver me back home after I become completely absorbed in the story.  Driving is another matter. 

While I prefer KUT or music for local driving, nothing but audiobooks will suffice for longer trips--excursions that demand awareness of imminent turns, distances between points, and the voice of the GPS (where have those been all my life?).  So, for highway consumption I seek out thrillers that are only moderately suspenseful, nonfiction that is reasonably interesting but not enthralling, and--above all--humor that isn't too funny.

David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day (read by the author, no less) has been deleted from my "approved for driving" list for all time.  Enjoying this fine production during a Kansas-to-Texas run, my husband and I were caught off guard by an especially riotous passage.  We found ourselves literally doubled over and snorting with laughter in the midst of city traffic.  Thank goodness I married a natural navigator; if I'd been alone I would surely have ended up in Arkansas.   

Relatively cheap thrills

With regard to personal book collections, librarians fall into two camps: the "Need to own because I love them" faction and the "I work at a library, for heaven's sake!" cadre--that's my group.  A veteran of numerous relocations, I mentally calculate weight and space requirements for every volume I encounter.

Still, I make exceptions to the borrow-not-buy policy without regret.  Owning copies that you can lend is wonderfully empowering.  You can deliver something fabulous to another reader without having gone to all the trouble of writing or publishing.  I recently loaned out my copies of Nick Bantock's original Griffin and Sabine trilogy to a co-worker and am enjoying his appreciation of those elaborate letters, stamps, and postcards far more than I deserve to.  

Penny Vincenzi's Spoils of Time trilogy further demonstrated to me that acquiring a whole set of something is a fundamental human need (also that investing in books pays off in the long run).  I sent the first book, No Angel, home with my mother after her Christmas visit, figuring that she would revel in the gossipy family saga with British historical setting as much as I did.  It's a lengthy tome, and I planned to offer the other two if that prediction proved correct.  I neglected to follow up, though, and later Mom mentioned that she'd gone to great lengths to find and purchase them.  I inherited the Thrift Gene from the previous generation so view that move as the ultimate compliment for Ms. Vincenzi. 

In the future, then, I will always package sets together.  At present, I am contemplating the thrill of buying Richard Russo's new book.  The "I don't want to rush so someone else can check it out" impulse and the Thrift Gene are deadlocked over this one.