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Blogging & Musing...

Ending a book...and starting over

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 17:56

good-by-to-booksDo you ever find yourself mourning the end of a book—you finish the last sentence, and it's like saying goodbye to a dear friend?

I’d been reading Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land. By the time I reached the end, I’d become so caught up in Frank Bascombe’s mind—his life and his ideas about life—that it was hard to leave him.

Then I turned around to start a new book, and I found it hard. Like making new friends—it required energy and commitment.

Do I even like these people? Do I really want to spend time with them?  Do I want to make the effort to learn all about them? Hopefully, we stick with the book, to the point where the story sucks us in—and we beoome engaged once again. Of course...then it's eventually goodbye.

Questions for Book Clubs

1.  Which books have been hard ones for you to end—it feels like saying goodbye to dear friends?  

2.  Which books have you had difficulty getting caught up in?  You’re not sure you’ve got the energy or interest to invest in getting to know a new group of people.

 

What Kind of Lover Are You? ♥ ♥ ♥

Sunday, 08 February 2009 10:53

betty-boopWe’re all bibliolatrous when it comes to books—otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.  The question is, how do you love your books—not how much, but in what manner do you love them? For Valentine’s Day, I think it appropriate for us to consider the ways. 

You're a Courtly Lover if you . . .

Can't bear the thought of using an e-reader (a Kindle)
Use bookmarks; never leave an open book face down
Never write on or dog-ear the pages
Hate having to part with old books, even ones you dislike
Always remove the dust jacket while reading
Never read while eating
Never read in the tub or at the beach (especially with a
   hardcover)
Adore the smell and sound of opening a brand new book.

 For you ”a book’s physical self is sacrosanct . . . its form inseparable from its content.”  Your duty as a Platonic lover “is a noble but doomed attempt to conserve forever the state of perfect chastity in which the book left the bookseller.”

You're a Carnal Lover if you . . .

Love using an e-reader (a Kindle)
Leave the book splayed—even knowing it damages the spine
Write, circle underline, or dog-ear the pages
Pass on old books with eagerness
Use the dust jacket’s flap as a bookmark
Love to read while you eat, bathe, or go to the beach
Use books for doorjams, paperweights, drink coasters, or
   shims
Love used books because others have enjoyed what you’re
   enjoying

For you  ”a book’s words are holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contain them are merely vessels.”  You feel no remorse in treating them wantonly because “hard use is a not a sign of disrespect but of intimacy.”

Here are the two extremes.  Thanks to Anne Fadiman’s delightful book, Confessions of a Common Reader,  for these two distinctions.  Fadiman talks about her father, who when traveling would rip out pages he’d already read and toss them into the trash—it lightened his load—obviously a carnal lover.  At the other end of the spectrum is a friend of hers who buys two books, one to read . . . and the other to preserve in its pristine state on the bookshelf—courtly to the max.

A fun book club discussion:  which type of lover are you?

 

John Updike—man of letters (1931-2009)

Tuesday, 03 February 2009 11:01

john-updikeToo young to die.  John Updike was only 76 and, many suspect, still taking copious notes as he drew his last breath in hospice care in Massachusetts on January 27. 

His lifelong output was astonishing, not just in number but genre:  novels, short stories, verse, essays, and criticism.  On subject matter, he was equally wide-ranging, moving from literature and art to favorite subjects like golf and baseball.

Considered America’s preeminent recorder of the middle class, he gave “the mundane its beautiful hue,” as he himself put it.  Some critics believe his sentences—lyrical things of beauty in themselves—lack the heft to carry ideas, but others feel his writing is a polished reflection of the world.

Critics find themselves hardpressed to pinpoint a single masterpiece, but most mention the Rabbit Tetrology (from 1960-90)—Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; Rabbit at Rest—chronicling the life of fictional Harry Angstrong. 

Other favorites include Couples, The Coup, The Witches of Eastwick and, recently, the Widows of Eastwick.  But that short list doesn’t begin to cover the body of his work.  My advice—get hold of an obituary in a major newspaper or national news magazine, where his oeuvre will be covered in depth.

Ideas for Book Clubs

  1. It would be fun to read Witches…then Widows of Eastwick.  You might attempt the Rabbit Tetrology, too, though it’s not my favorite. 
  2. For fun, read Updike's famous short story “A & P” in our free LitCourse 4. The story is a brilliant and funny, even bittersweet, coming of age story set in the 1950s. Also, take a look at the LitCourse Study Guide for for the story.
 

Nancy Drew Me In

Friday, 30 January 2009 12:08

nancy-drewWhat book changed your life?

Paranoid me, but I always see that question as a trap. It means you’re about to be judged on your literary taste, so you’d better come up with an obscure but Significant Work of Literature—like a poem by Rilke (quick, what’s his full name?). But all I ever come up with is Nancy Drew.

Nancy.  She had great clothes.  She had a blue roadster ... great pals ... a boyfriend ... a doting father ... and a surrogate mother in Hannah-the-housekeeper. Best of all, she had an unlimited supply of pocket change—which allowed her freedom and adventure. She was 18, I was 10 or 11, and I adored and envied her.

Obviously, I didn’t become a detective. But after devouring every book in the series, I did become a Reader. When at 13, my friend Mary Phelan Turner got me to read all 1,000+ pages of Gone With the WindI was hooked on books—reading became my drug of choice.

Something fun for a book club meeting:

  • Start your meeting by having each member answer the question:  “What book turned you into a life-long reader ... and why?
  • Turn it into a game.  All members write their answers down on a piece of paper, collect and read them outloud, then guess who submitted which title.  (For more book club games under "Run a Book Club".)
 

Do Book Clubs Ruin Reading?

Monday, 05 January 2009 12:13

bugs-readingDo book clubs ruin that mysterious quality inherent in the act of reading—being transported to another world?

A New York Times writer says she envies her 11-year-old daughter’s ability to melt into whatever story she’s reading. The author, an analytical reader, says she longs for her girlhood when she could completely lose herself in the magic of a book.

I am not sure when or exactly how I started merely reading books instead of living in them….  But I suppose…the byproduct of growing up is that I formed too many opinions of my own to be able to give in wholeheartedly to the prospect of living inside someone else’s universe.

—”I Wish I Could Read Like a Girl,” Michelle Slatalla, New York Times, 1/1/09

By “merely reading,” I think Slatalla means reading with critical awareness rather than pure enchantment. But for me reading and thinking are synonomous. Opinions, life experiences, and achieved wisdom end up enriching the reading experience. 

That may not be true for everyone. And then again, there are plenty of times I like to “just read” without doing the heavy lifting.

Questions for Book Clubs

  1. Does belonging to a book club require you to read with a more analytical, perhaps even skeptical, eye?  If so, does that detract from your reading pleasure?
  2. Have you ever come away from a book club meeting thinking differently about a book because of the discussion? 
  3. Do you end up reading on your own . . . just for fun?

 

Echo Chambers—are we all reading the same books?

Saturday, 22 November 2008 12:49

echo-chamberHello…ello…lo……..  Are book clubs like echo chambers—reading and talking about the same books?  Joshua Henkin (Matrimony) worries that we are: you know, books like Water for Elephants; Eat, Pray, LoveKite Runner. We’re all reading them and reviewing the same ones.

Here’s how Henkin puts it:

There are a lot of great books out there that people don’t know about . . . . [At the same time] fewer books have more and more readers. . . .  For that reason, it has become harder for all but a handful of books to get the attention they deserve.   
                                        —Books on the Brain, 4/29/08 

Henkin makes a strong case. Pity new authors trying to get their books noticed. It’s got to be disheartening.

Nonetheless, there’s something delightful that so many of us are on the same page. The book club movement is like the city that promotes a single book for its residents to read. Meet someone at the water cooler, at the mall, on the bus…and a conversation gets started. “Hey, how do you like Eat, Pray, Love? Have you read such & such yet?” It’s suddenly easy to find commonality, even with total strangers.

And while Henkin is right—many more authors deserve our attention—perhaps book club lists have more variety than expected.

Take a look at the list below. It’s a sampling of titles that have cropped up recently on LitLovers website—some are mentioned by our featured book clubs, others come from people who email me to request a reader’s guide. It’s an interesting list.

Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie — Half of a Yellow Sun
Murray Bail — Eucalyptus
Lynne Cox — Grayson
Ivan Doig — Whistling Season; the McCaskill trilogy
Jennifer Cody Epstein — The Painter from Shanghai
Dorothea Benton Frank — Sullivan’s Island
Victor Fankl — Man’s Search for Meaning
Tana French — In the Woods
Beth Gutcheon — Good-bye and Amen; Leeway Cottage
Jim Harrison — Returning to Earth
Kent Haruf — Plainsong; Eventide   
Robert Hicks — Widow of the South
Paulette Jiles — Enemy Women
Lesley Kagen — Whistling in the Dark
Aryn Kyle — The God of Animals
Sinclair Lewis — Main Street
J. Nozipo Maraire – Zenzele: Letter for My Daughter
Roland Merullo — Breakfast with Buddha
David Mitchell — Ghostwritten
John O’Hara — Appointment in Samarra
Tom Perotta —  Little Children; The Abstinence Teacher
Nancy Pickard — The Virgin of Small Plains
Anthony Powell — Dance to the Music of Time
Richard Powers — The Echo Maker
Reynolds Price — Kate Vaiden
Tatiana de Rosnay — Sarah’s Key
Mary Doria Russell — The Sparrow
Helen Santmyer — And Ladies of the Club
Carol Shields — Stone Diaries; Unless
Ahdaf Soueif — The Map of Love
Nancy Turner — These Is My Words
Larry Watson — Sundown, Yellow Moon; Montana 1948 

See all posts on Joshua Henkin’s book club essay.

 

I Have a Kindle!!!

Friday, 14 November 2008 13:28

kindle2Let me tell you how easy it is to get over your attachment to books—the kind with paper pages?  Once you hold this gorgeous book-machine (yes, machine) in your hand, you won’t want to let go.  Ever.

It’s surprisingly easy on the eye—so you can read for hours, even even bump up the type size. It’s easy to flip from page to page and back again.  You can bookmark pages, highlight passages, even make notes!  You’re automatically connected to Amazon, so with a click of a button, you buy your books—and they’re downloaded within a minute.  Ooooooooh… I’m in love!

But dear librarians, here’s the question: what will you do? If our books become electronic, what’s the future for libraries? I know librarians all over the country are asking this very question—I read your blogs. (Wow, do you guys blog!) And what will become of bricks-and-mortar book stores? 

Oh, how did I get my Kindle?  After all, they’re not cheap.  Well, my dear friend Lynne presented it to me as a gift!  Give her a call.  Maybe she’ll take a liking to you and get you one, too.  Here’s her number: 202-555-1234.  Good luck.

 

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