Many, many years ago, in my eighth grade oral presentation class, one of the few talks I remember giving was one about e-books. They were not even really a thing back then, but for some reason the topic was in the air. I argued against them, saying that paper was more permanent, more aesthetic, and more shareable. E-books seemed so ephemeral and somehow illegitimate.
I still find e-books more ephemeral and uglier than paper books. But I’ve given them a larger and larger share of my reading life. They’re just so convenient and portable. I check out books from the library, or download free classics, because I don’t like spending money on them. I can carry my e-reader around easily everywhere, get books instantly, and not have to wrestle with heavy volumes or awkward positioning.
Since I’ve started to read books in French, the built-in dictionary is a godsend. And the real clincher is that my excellent eyesight has at long last started to fail, and I HATE wearing reading glasses. With an e-book I can enlarge the text so that I don’t have to.
What I like least about e-books is the inability to focus on more than one page at once: to physically grasp the length of a chapter in relation to the whole, to flip back and forth to look at maps, pictures, and footnotes, or to correlate passages with diagrams or with other sections of the book. For these, I definitely prefer paper. And for a total aesthetic experience, with pictures and typography, give me a beautifully printed and bound copy. These still have an important place in my life.
But otherwise, I’ve done a 180 degree turn from my eighth grade position, and embraced e-books.
What about you? Do you have any opinions about your reading habits you thought would never change, but have since converted?
When I go to church in a nearby city, there’s a booth by the bus station that is crammed with books — mostly French and German, but quite a few in English, and free for the taking. I usually come home with as many as I can carry, but I haven’t read most of them yet.
After shedding so many of my possessions in moving to Europe, I really don’t want to pile up more stuff. I’ve managed to buy less, but free books are so hard to resist. Perhaps I need to make a “book in, book out” policy — I can donate books I’ve read in my turn. For a while I may need to shut my eyes when I walk past the Booth of Temptation, at least till I get through some of my current hoard.
How about you? Can you resist the lure of free books? And if you can’t, how do you deal with all your new acquisitions?
The Classics Club has revived their monthly meme, with a “rebooted” question for summer 2020: “What is your favorite classic?” So I’ve co-opted it for this month’s discussion challenge.
It’s too hard to designate one favorite classic book, but I well remember the first time I read a “classic” and actually enjoyed it, showing me that having a “favorite classic book” was even a possibility. It was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and I devoured it during a Puget Sound ferry ride for some class trip or other when I was about 13 or 14 years old.
Previous encounters with classics that I thought I should read, like Pride and Prejudice, or books schoolteachers thought teenagers should read, like A Separate Peace, had left me confused, bored, and discouraged. But Steinbeck’s brief tale pulled me right in — it was simply written enough for me to understand and emotionally involving enough that I didn’t want to stop. The ending left me in tears but knowing that I had had a new and wonderful reading experience: I had loved reading a classic. There would be many more to come.
Do you remember the first time you enjoyed reading a classic? Or what is your favorite of all time?
In my youth, books were not always easy to find; now they seem to be assaulting me from every direction. New, old, domestic, imported, print books, e-books, conventionally published, self-published…. This abundance is amazing, but it sometimes feels a bit oppressive.
Even though I have a “no review requests” policy on my blog, I still get hopeful emails from authors asking me to read their new book. There are so many of these out there, looking for readers! And I sincerely hope they will find an audience, but I start to wonder: are there enough readers for all these books? Do we need so many new books? What would happen if, say, we put a hold on publishing for the next year, and just made do with what we have? Or cut the supply by half — or nine-tenths? If we weren’t so overwhelmed with riches, would we value the remainder more?
This is not a serious proposal. I could never say to any particular book or author, “You are the one that has to go!” Even if a book is not for me, I want to leave the possibility open that someday, somehow, it will find the person who needs to read it. To me, infinite possibilities are what reading is all about.
Everybody thinks their story has never been told before, and needs to be told. And it’s true. But how shall we find the time to listen, the space to look? How can we, within our mortal limitations, grapple with all this boundless creativity?
How do you deal with the feeling that there are too many books?
At the beginning of the year, I love reading about other people’s reading goals and making my own. I also sympathize with those who want to have no or very few goals. Nobody should feel that reading has to be a chore.
This year, I noticed that some people have more specific plans than I do. They aim to read a certain number of various types of books per month, for example — different genres, books from their shelves vs. new acquisitions, etc. I wondered if this might be helpful for me to try.
Since my main goals are reading more books from around the world, more nonfiction, and books from the Back to the Classics categories, I could for example aim to complete at least one around-the-world / nonfiction / classic book each month. Sometimes there would be overlap, making things easier! I also would like to read books from my own shelves, since I took the trouble to haul them all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, so I could put in one of those as well.
Four books per month seems doable, and would help me not to forget about my goals as the year progresses. What do you think? Do you have a reading plan for yourself, and how is it working?
At this time of year there are loads of lists of favorite books from the previous year, and of titles anticipated for this one. I’ve generally not read most of the former, nor do I tend to immediately stuff the latter onto my already groaning TBR list.
I just do not keep up with the very most current releases. Over my six years of blogging I’ve been doing fewer and fewer reviews of new releases, as I felt too much stress and guilt associated with review copies. And usually I’m fine with that, but just now with the excitement associated with these “best of the year” lists, I feel a bit left out. Is there something the matter with me? Should I be trying to stay more up-to-the-minute with my book choices?
Like most people I crave novelty, but me, “new” is any book that has newly come across my radar, whether it’s one month old or 100 years old. I feel very contemporary if I read a book released within the last decade. And I confess that I actually like to give the hot new titles a year or more to settle, to prove their worth. By then, they seem to take their place more comfortably within the plethora of other books clamoring for attention.
How do you feel about reading current releases? Are they your jam, or are you indifferent? Am I missing something by not reading them?
With the ever-proliferating number of books out there, it’s hardly surprising that some titles are similar or identical. What I do find surprising is that some of these books are not separated by years or genres, but are published close together, making confusion quite likely. One would think publishers and authors would take more care to make their books stand out and be different from the crowd. But perhaps it’s a way to get their books read, jumping on the bandwagon of someone else’s publicity? Perhaps uniqueness is not a value in the publishing world? Who knows what goes on in those inscrutable minds?
In a special category of confusion verging on the infuriating is the titling trend “X of Y and Z” which I already wrote about here. Recent examples in addition to my original list include Worlds of Ink and Shadow, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Whispers of Shadow and Flame, House of Ash and Brimstone, House of Salt and Sorrows … I simply cannot understand why there are so many of these, and I wish the trend would stop!
But aside from that, there are some other titles that are especially hard for me to keep straight — thus today’s topic, and the examples below. Do you have the same experience? What titles do you find most confusing — and does it bother you, too?
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard (2006) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafón (2001) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007)
One Day by David Nicholls (2009) One Day by Gene Weingarten (2019)
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2016) A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders (2014)
The Great Library, series by Rachel Caine (started 2015) The Invisible Library, series by Geraldine Cogman (started 2015)
As I keep track of my reading, I have to make some decisions as to what makes it onto my list of completed books. Does it count if I skim or skip a substantial portion? What if I stop reading partway through and then take it up again — should I start over from the beginning? What about reading aloud, where there are often interruptions — my husband reads one night instead, or my son takes the book and reads part of it on his own? How about collections of essays, poetry, short stories and such, where sometimes there are pieces that just don’t speak to me and that I don’t want to spend time reading?
When there are are substantial gaps like these, I usually don’t count those books as “read.” To do so would make me feel guilty, as though I were perpetrating some deception. But am I being too strict? Do I have to read every single word of a book in order to put it on my list? Do you have a rule of thumb in these cases — a percentage, or a page count that you could skip and still consider that you’ve read the book?
Then there are format questions. Some people seem not to consider audiobooks as “real reading,” which I think is nonsense. Yes, a voice actor has taken over some of the activity that normally goes on in your head, but you still have to pay attention and take in the words. The book comes alive in your imagination through listening, just as much as when you process it by reading. Still, it is a somewhat different activity, even if we don’t have a different word for it in our language.
E-books raise questions for me as well. Of course this is just another way of taking in words on a page, so it’s certainly “reading” from that point of view, but after completing an e-book — especially a complex and many-layered one, like Awakenings — I often feel as though I haven’t really grasped it. When only one fragment is available to me at at time, the whole seems to slip beyond my reach. Can I truly say that I have “read” it, that I have gradually come into possession of that wholeness which is the book?
Trifling questions, perhaps, yet they nag at me. What are your thoughts? How do you decide which books to count as “read”?
I used to be nostalgic for my childhood reading, when every new discovery was so fresh and exciting and the worlds on the page seemed vividly real. I still look back with fondness to that particular magic, but lately I’ve grown to also appreciate being a more mature reader. I understand more, I have more connections to make with both literature and life, and the excitement of learning still never grows old.
This question came to mind as I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings to my son. It was never really meant as a children’s book, though I think lots of us do come to it in the middle grade years. And though as a fantasy lover I dutifully read it a few times, I have to admit I was somewhat baffled. Now, I can see better what Tolkien was doing, his strengths and weaknesses, perceiving the echo of ancient sagas and also his innovations. I’m less thrown by his sometimes confusing or archaic writing style, and I certainly enjoy the story more thereby.
Reading as I grow older doesn’t lose any of its savor, but just seems to get richer and deeper — especially when taking on such complex, many-layered works. It’s satisfying to contemplate how reading has enriched my mental life, and to know that there is still much more room to grow.
If you are a reader of a certain age, how has your reading experience changed? Do you also think it’s gotten better?
All books, in a sense, exist in order to bring forth pictures in the mind. But should those pictures be specifically embodied in a visual medium? When are illustrations helpful, and when are they distracting or disturbing? Is it better for readers to make their own images? Or can a good collaboration between author and illustrator create a result that is more than the sum of its parts?
When I reread the Oz books as a picture-less electronic text, I was struck by how different this experience was from reading them as a child. The images by John R. Neill, who illustrated all but the first of the original series, had made a deep impression on me. Full of life and vivid character, they contribute a piquancy that Baum’s text sometimes lacks, in its pallid or generic descriptions. I’m quite sure that this visual element was as important to me as the words for making Oz seem a real and attractive place.
We expect children’s books to be illustrated, but what about books for adults? We’re being increasingly shaped by visual media, and every time I go to the bookstore I see a mind-boggling array of visually stunning volumes. But novels still are seldom illustrated, nor are works of philosophy or science or history usually given an artistic, interpretive treatment.
There are some specialist publishers that do this, The Folio Society being the main one that I know of. I always get a kick out of seeing Folio do illustrated versions of unexpected works like Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, or The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud — even if I wouldn’t buy them myself, I think it’s an interesting experiment to make.
The books I’m more drawn to are the narratives, and here I often have mixed feelings. I am usually not coming at them afresh, but looking at a text that I already know and judging whether the pictures give the same impression as the reading experience. Not whether they match pictures in my head — I don’t visualize characters or settings so specifically. But the words give me certain feelings; do the pictures evoke the same feelings? Or do they go in another direction, that jars against my vaguely but often strongly held impressions?
I may like some aspect of the artist’s vision, but not be completely satisfied. One case in point is the Folio edition of The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (you are all reading Robertson Davies, aren’t you?) I love the idea of combining characters and incidents from the book, saints and figures from the Tarot. That was brilliant, and the artist did not shrink from portraying the chthonic emotion, the archetypal mythic currents that Davies seeks to expose beneath the prim moral exterior of Canadian provincial life. But I find his style too aggressively ugly overall, and thought there should have been some element of beauty and mystery as well. To me, that was an important element of the trilogy too. (I do love the cover, which is perfect.)
It’s rather like the problem of translation: a work translated into another language can never be the same as the original, but it can strive to give a similar experience, based on the particular conventions and associations in the second language. Is it archaic, formal, wild, deliberate, transgressive, prissy, melodious, laconic, flippant? These qualities can be conveyed using the tools available in another language — which may be quite different from those in the first, but still reach toward a similar effect.
So in the “language” of art one can try to strive after such similarity of effect. Opinions will differ about the success of such projects, because each reader has a somewhat different experience of a text. And there can be multiple treatments that are satisfying in different ways, too. I don’t think there’s any definitive or right answer to the question of how to represent a book’s contents, but it’s a rather fascinating question.
How do you feel about illustrated books? Are you attracted by them, or do you prefer your text unadorned? Are there some illustrations you find more successful than others?