Bookshelf

I just ran across a thought-provoking post on Bookpuddle about not finishing books. It’s called “What’s Your Abandonment Rate?” and it contains many jewels about the relationship between reader and books, like, “Regarding consummation, how many boring and uninteresting pages or chapters will you endure before you annul your vows and open the covers of another?”

The avid reader can relate to the concept of taking a vow every time you open a new book. That’s why it’s so hard to give up on it: you feel like you’re asking for a divorce–and you’re the one who is at fault. I know that I do. I don’t give up on a lot of books. But when I do, I agonize over my decision. I generally will hold onto the book as long as the library allows me to. (I rarely buy books: I can’t afford to and haven’t the room for them if I could. I will often buy a book after reading it from the library if I just have to have it.) And if I haven’t finished it by then, I let it go. There are so many books in the world, I rationalize, I just can’t afford to waste time on a book that I’m not enjoying. But still I feel guilty.

I do three kinds of reading: books that are good for me (Literature with a capital ‘L’), “junk” books, and books that give me information. I always have to have a junk book on hand for quick reading–I can go through two or three while I’m perusing one non-fiction or literary book. My junk books of choice are mysteries and thrillers. Sometimes horror or science fiction. I don’t care for chick lit or romances, although I’ve read them from time to time.

I’m terrible about reading Literature. I tend to rebel against authority and if someone tells me that reading a certain book is mandatory if I want to be well-read, I instantly take a dislike to it. In all fairness to myself, however, the literary novels I do read rarely satisfy me. They tend to be about nothing, in my humble opinion, and therefore make for slow reading. I’m an extremely fast reader, but only because I skim like mad, and it’s hard to get anything out of a literary work if you skim it. Basically, I’m just impatient.

One of my resolutions for this year is to read more meaningfully. That means, I guess, that I’ll give Literature a fairer shake than I have in the past. I’ve been looking at book lists for suggestions and tuning in at Good Reads and Library Thing. I’ve also found a couple of really good book blogs besides Bookpuddle: So Many Books and Semicolon.

The books I read for information depend on what I’m delving into at the time. I periodically gather up several writing books, I’ve gotten books on motherhood, feminism, biographies and memoirs, how the brain works, travel, spirituality and religion–and the list goes on and on. I’m sure my librarian thinks I’m schizo, my reading list is so eclectic.

I spent four months in Germany a few years ago and was appalled to learn that their libraries are not free. You have to pay a fee for so many books, sort of like a subscription. Since I regularly have 50 books out of the library at a time, I’d be broke in no time. Or terribly frustrated. I have to have a lot of books around me for fear that I will run out of things I want to read. (As if.)

I know I’m not exactly an oddity–unless all bibliophiles are oddities. But I suspect I’m in the minority. Except for readers of this post: if you’re a writer, you’re probably an avid reader; the two seem to go hand in hand. What and why do you read?


Suggested Memoirs

I just finished and am still mulling over the book The Memoir and the Memoirist, by Thomas Larson. It gave me a lot to think about. It also made me want to start reading memoirs and personal essays like crazy, to see if I can apply the observations he made to each work. Here is a list of the books he discusses throughout the text:

The Kiss and The Mother Knot: A Memoir, by Kathryn Harrison
Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt (Also ‘Tis and Teacher Man)
The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride
Fierce Attachments: A Memoir, by Vivian Gornick
This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, by Tobias Wolff
A Hole In The World: An American Boyhood, by Richard Rhodes
The unexpurgated edition of The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank
Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy
Prozac Diary and Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, by Lauren Slater
Light Years, by Le Anne Schreiber
Anna: A Daughter’s Life, byWilliam Loizeaux
Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
Moments of Being, by Virginia Woolf
Lost In Place, by Mark Salzman
My Father’s House: A Memoir of Incest and Healing, by Sylvia Fraser
Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lessons, by Mitch Alborn
An American Childhood and For the Time Being, by Annie Dillard
Firebird and Still Life With Oysters and Lemons, by Mark Doty
Fault Line, by Laurie Alberts
Fat Girl: A True Story, by Judith Moore
Intoxicated By My Illness, by Anatole Broyard
This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death, by Harold Brodkey
Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir, by Beverly Lowry
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
Breakup: The End of a Love Story, by Catherine Texier
Fugitive Spring: Coming of Age in the ’50s and ’60s, by Deborah Digges
Paradise: Piece By Piece, by Molly Peacock
Fear of Fifty, by Erica Jong
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston
Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, by Nuala O’Faolain
A Walker in the City, by Alfred Kazin
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, by Mary McCarthy
All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg
Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America, by Elizabeth Wurzel
Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop, by Joseph Lelyveld
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, by William Styron
Lucky, by Alice Sebold
My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale, by James Atlas
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor

The author of The Memoir and the Memoirist does not so much review these books as dissect them and that alone would make reading them along with his book worthwhile.