Category Archives: Reading

Clipping Reviews

Wouldn’t there be a market for a national literary supplement, something to go in USA Today maybe? Perhaps the NYTBR holds that place, and yet it is as disgraced its partner paper, is it not?

Grad student Kristen Keckler remembers seeking out book reviews in the Sunday paper, clipping them, and taking a folder of them to the bookstore to help her buy interesting or winning books. “While Amazon suggests books it ‘thinks’ I’ll like,” she says, “newspaper book reviews introduce me to books off my radar, books I wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Print book reviews also offer the authority, depth, and substance that online reviews often lack.”

I feel for her, honestly, and I do wonder about a national book review, The USABR, if you will; but regardless, I can readily imagine a country without newspapers.

Who Should Be Fired for This?

Employees at Waterstone’s, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, prefer male authors to female in a recent survey. “The company asked its 5,000 employees to name their favourite five books written since 1982, when Waterstone’s opened its first store. The resulting list of the top 100 favourites is dominated by male authors,” reports the UK Telegraph.

A store spokesman said, while women don’t care about an author’s gender, “Subconsciously, I think men stick to male writers. They think that what women write doesn’t appeal to them.” (via Books, Inq.)

Why Read What You Don’t Have To?

Is reading overrated? I mean, do you have to read every page from cover to cover? There’s Frenchman who says don’t worry about reading a book for talking or even teaching about it. He may be full of hot air, but Lennard J. Davis says he may have a point or two:

Let’s remember that even one of the greatest readers of literature, Samuel Johnson, admitted that “Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and puts down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.” In fact, Johnson seemed to have made quite a career of not reading. He once lamented to his friend Mrs. Thrale, “Alas, Madam! How few books are there of which one can ever possibly arrive at the last page.” And reacting to advice that once started, a book should be read all the way through, he opined, “A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?”

I agree with the last comment and wish I could practice it better.

Many Unread Books

A new survey out of Britain says the average person may buy several books in a year, but read only half of them. I’m sure I would fill out the low end of the average, though I’m also low on the number of books I buy too. Don’t hate me. I do intend to read them all somehow.

Coincidentally, Sandra of Book World quotes from Virginia Woolf today: “The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. … After all, what laws can be laid down about books?”

What laws can be laid down? Do you have to read a book completely to consider it read? It applies more to non-fiction, but should a reader not feel free to dip into a book to pull out a tasty apple, leaving the rest of it unread at least for the moment?

Let’s Talk About the Worst

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and no doubt you have worked up warm and squishy feelings over the people or food products you most love. I think you need some balance. Talk to me about those books you wish you hadn’t read or those that were so bad you couldn’t finish them.

The discussion has already started. Sherry doesn’t give us the name of the “bodice-ripper” she couldn’t get through, though she may not remember it. Mark points out several titles which despite the strong writing may be difficult for many readers to finish. One book I reviewed favorably last year drew harsh criticism from my sister and a few others for stilted dialogue and otherwise boring writing.

I still don’t think I read many books for good reasons. I slog through many books in order to review them later. I also read slowly, so when I say “many books” it’s probably just a few compared to you. I probably should read careless for a year, giving a book 50 pages to interest me and feeling no guilt for dropping it.

But what about you? Can you name any books you disliked?

Tourism by the book

Today’s post isn’t about Norway exactly. It’s about Norway and other places too.

I’ve traveled overseas several times, and I’ve always gone to Norway. Other countries I’ve visited have either been on the way or on the way back from Norway.

It’s not that there’s no other country I’d like to see. It’s just that my traveling money is limited (often nonexistent), and I have to prioritize.

But I must admit the list of countries I really want to see is fairly short.

Denmark, because it’s another ancestral country, and I haven’t been there yet.

The British Isles, because of all the books and movies and literature.

Israel, because of the Bible.

And… hmm. I wouldn’t turn down a free trip to a few other countries, but I won’t feel cheated at the end of my life if the list above covers my life’s tourism.

I’ve often wondered about my complete lack of interest in the exotic. I hear people saying, “Oh, I want to visit China and Indonesia and Brazil and all those far-off, unfamiliar places.”

And I don’t see it. Why, I wonder, am I only interested in my own culture and heritage, and nobody else’s?

The obvious answer, in our time, is that I must be a racist, but I think there’s more to it.

My interest in travel, I’ve realized, is almost entirely connected to my reading. I want to see the places where the stories happened. That’s why I couldn’t appreciate my one canoe trip to the North Woods with my brothers. There wasn’t any beloved story associated with it. (Also paddling and portaging is a lot of work,)

Visiting the American West, on the other hand, is something I want to do. Lots of stories there, historic and fictional.

My interest in seeing a place is directly proportional to the stories I’ve read that come from there. That’s why I’d like to see England, but France and Germany leave me cold (I know The Three Musketeers is French, but, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, it’s not a story in which the landscape plays much of a role).

I’m not saying this is the right way to look at travel, or that my approach is better in any way than yours.

I’m just saying that’s how it is with me.

And what am I blogging for, except to explain myself in exasperating detail?

All This to Encourage Reading

Jerome Weeks, who is the Book Daddy, blogs on literary-styled Reality TV:

My new reality TV-book pitch? Hide a literary agent with a lucrative publishing contract on a jungle island. Crash land a group of troubled young memoirists there (with a camera crew) and release some unspecified monster that starts killing them gruesomely (copy editors or book critics might volunteer for this role). The trick? Each memoirist has been given part of a coded map that can lead them to the agent. And only the agent knows how to kill the monster, plus get a movie option. All this will require teamwork, obviously, because the longer it takes the writers to find the agent, the more time he has to spend the advance and screw up the movie rights. And maybe eat the only food on the island, something unimportant like that.

Nancy Pearl’s Book Community Site

Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and More Book Lust, has a community site (if that’s the right term) for readers and book lovers. Her book recommendations are given throughout the site, including a page for what she’s reading now, and there are several pages of lit blog links. Could be an interesting site. I don’t know that it will have influence in the world at large than the literary blog network Metaxucafe.com, but how can we compare blogs objectively? Site traffic? Pshah!

The Ardent Fan

From an article on Thomas Pynchon comes this description of a fan.

Tim Ware, who runs the Web site thomaspynchon.com from Oakland, Calif., recalls having a hard time getting through “Gravity’s Rainbow,” at least the first time around.

“I went back and looked again at the first page and everything just sort of snapped into view, and I thought, ‘This guy is a genius,’ like those who walked the Earth in the 19th century,” says Ware.

“And I got rather messianic about it, and I wanted my wife to read it. I started creating an index of all the characters, because there were so many and it was so hard to keep track of them.”

Maybe this is the wrong day for me to read something like this, but with so much going on in our shrinking world, giving yourself to the ardent fandom of Thomas Pynchon seems like a waste.

Do Books Cost Too Much?

Interesting quotes from people on the Killjoy Express by way of The New Yorker: “Our wasteful consumer society buys, reads, and discards more brand-new hardcover fiction in a single day than the rest of the industrial world combined. I find that statistic staggering.”

Now, I don’t understand this man testimony: “People don’t seem to care where they start or stop in a book nowadays, so long as they’re reading. . . . And the minute they finish one novel they toss it aside and start another. I’ve seen people on the freeway flip through a novel to the dénouement, read it, and throw the book out the window. Then they’ll swing by a bodega, buy a new novel or two or a dozen, and be on their way. No one bothers to pick up the old novels, so they’re scattered all over, as we know, backing up in storm drains. The excess of it appalls me.”

Where does that happen?

We Really Don’t Ban Books in the States

Sherry of Semicolon has a good post on Banned Books Week, which echoes my thoughts on the subject. She starts with some facts on what’s banned in other countries and then states that we don’t ban books in America.

I attended library school and heard librarians say, with a straight face, that when they chose to not purchase Nancy Drew books or comic books, the process was called “selection,” but when parents or citizens tried to voice their opinions about what should or should not be purchased by the libraries that they support with their taxes, it was “censorship.” Librarians were an elite group of educated professionals who knew how to “select ” library materials; others were yokels who were out to keep information out of the hands of the people, book-banners. . . . The only difference is that the librarians are assumed to have good motives, to provide as many materials as possible to the lbrary’s patrons, and the public citizens are assumed to have bad motives, to keep materials out of the hands of others.

Kenyon Review Blog: Give Me My Money Back

Today, I learned The Kenyon Review has a blog. I have a good impression of this literary journal, but still have yet to subscribe. My impression may be unfounded, perhaps being drawn from my good impression of poet Jane Kenyon who doesn’t have anything to do with the college.

Anyway, the KR blogger Liz Lopatto is complaining about books for which she’d like a refund. Among them:

Everything Jane Austen has ever written, but especially Persuasion. I’ve never been fond of Austen’s ridiculous style, and while David Lynn has tried unsuccessfully to convince me that she’s really parodying the characters she writes about, she spends so much loving detail describing every second of their boring lives that I can’t believe him. I threw Persuasion across the room several times when I had to read it for my English comprehensive exercise, but especially when our heroine Anne, who has no flaws except that she might be plain (this changes as the book goes on, however; her beauty blooms again!), discovers Captain Wentworth really does love her. I threw the book and stomped on it when her spurned suitor, her cousin, turns out to be a “villain.” Because our Anne couldn’t possibly break the heart of someone who’s decent–oh, no, she’s too good for that. I understand Austen is considered a classic but I still can’t figure out why.

She doesn’t like Dickens or Moby Dick either. To each his own.

No, I’m not going to type “to each his or her own,” because it’s awkward. English speakers should understand that implication and avoid petty language politics.