As one considers which book to read this week, one must wrestle with the multi-headed serpent of leisure temptations, i.e. whether to play centipede on one’s game boy whilst texting 43 close, close friends and listening to Pandora spew the syrupy smooth stylings of Martin Denny, or to simply read a non-interactive, made-from-paper, silent, perhaps odiferous book.
Once the concept of a book is chosen, a specific title must be selected. Some readers return to favorite authors or genres, others wander the shelves looking for shiny covers. Some limit their choices by deciding NOT to read certain things. Today we look at how members of the blog team choose and/or not choose reading materials. We start with Lisa.
I think one of the biggest revelations I had when I hit my 30’s was that I didn’t have to be bullied, cajoled or guilted into reading books to satisfy someone else’s expectations. Never again! Reading would now be on my own terms. This isn’t to say that I don’t value a heads up from like-minded readers. Still, I occasionally find myself pages-deep into a hopeless case, ready to put it down for good. Thanks to Ron bringing the topic out into the open, I feel like I can come clean about a couple of my abandoned reads.
When I was doing my anthropology undergrad I was assigned to read portions of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I wanted to like the book and tried my hardest to do so, but I had a problem with the writing voice. I’ve never been able to get past the undercurrent of arrogance that seems to pervade Dawkins’ writings. I’ve even tried to pick up his other titles but have had the same result. Even though I appreciate the point of view that he’s trying to contribute to the dialogue about science, evolution, and man’s place in the world, I always wind up thinking he’d be more persuasive if his arguments didn’t sound like attacks.
My second abandoned read was an indirect recommendation from a friend, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt. I decided to pick it up because I liked the cover art. I know – I judge books by their covers. I swear it works a lot of the time and could talk your ear off about my theory on why. Unfortunately this time it failed. To be honest, I should have known better; this friend and I have very different tastes. The problem with Wolves is my own. If something is described as a ‘moving story of love, grief, and renewal,’ I should know that I’m not going to be into it. Same goes for anything considered a coming of age story, unless the person who is coming of age happens to do magic or live in space. (Sorry, Anita – it’s not you, it’s me!)
Richard offers a different take on reading choices.
I don’t think of myself as having many rules concerning what I will and will not read. There is one, however, that seems pretty solid: I shy away from longer works. When I notice a large number of pages or an intimidating thickness to a book, a voice in the back of my head whispers: Is it really worth all that reading time? Here is an example:
Mailman: a Novel by J. Robert Lennon
I should like this book. The plot, centering on a disgruntled and isolated mailman in a small upstate New York town, is my kind of thing. (Yes, I have issues). The writing style is cutting, cynical and well crafted. Another favorite. So why did I find my attention wandering about 100 pages in? I chalk it up to the 400 pages I had left to go and a long list of “to read” books. It is now on a slightly shorter list of “books I should get back to someday.”
There does seem to be an exception to my inability to commit to longer works. When it comes to historical non-fiction, especially social history, I can read and read and read. One of the latest that I finished is:
The Australians: Origins to Eureka by Thomas Keneally
To my shame, I know almost nothing of Australian history so I decide to pick up this book to fill in my knowledge gap. Despite the length, clocking in at 628 pages, and rather bland title I never found my attention wandering once while reading this tome. Jettisoning a strict linear timeline, Keneally instead tells the individual stories and circumstance of the ordinary as well as the “historically significant” people who shaped Australia’s early history. I’m actually excitedly waiting for volume two. Go figure.
In conclusion? Everyone has their own set of criteria for choosing (or not choosing) books. It’s interesting to see how others think, perhaps to be influenced by their thought processes, and ideally to be stretched into examining reads outside of one’s comfort zone. Regardless, read and read and read. The game boy can wait till later.
Keep this perspective on reading going. It is interesting, and honest, to hear why we do or don’t read a book. How we read would be an interesting topic too. I use the ebook route to test a book since it seems silly to keep a “book” if you abandon it–zap and it’s gone. If it was a really fine book, buy the hard copy for the shelf as a remind of the experience and an invitation to read it again.