Thursday 23 April 2009

The Reading Lamp: Rose City Reader reads all the time. Literally.

Rose City Reader lends new value to the perhaps over-used claim so many of us make to "reading all the time"; I like it. I also like her suggestion that it's time to put A Separate Peace to bed, and replace it with something else on high school reading lists everywhere. Really, why are kidz reading the same things I read in the early 90s, and which were already old then?

Your name: Rose City Reader

What are you reading now? The Echo Maker by Richard Powers, Basil’s Dream by Christine Hale, The Stettheimer Dollhouse, Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok, and a whole mess of short story collections, including ones by Hemingway, Hawthorne, Maugham, Waugh, and Dahl.

Where are you reading them? Like so many fans, I read all the time. Thanks to audio books, this is almost literally true. I read books with my ears while I drive, go on daily walks, work out at the gym, and putter around the house. I cannot listen to an audio book while doing anything else involving words – no radio playing or internet, for instance.

I read “book books” for about 15 minutes in the morning before I get up, and again before I fall asleep. I try to read a couple of evenings a week and some more on weekends, but having just moved into a new (old) house, the projects have been interfering with my reading lately. This picture is me reading Davita’s Harp in the extra bedroom we converted to a library.

How did you discover these books? The Echo Maker: This won the National Book Award – one of the many book lists I am working my way through.

Basil’s Dream: This is a really, really good novel about Bermuda that power-publicist Mary Bisbee-Beek sent me to review.

The Stettheimer Dollhouse: This is a cool little book, mostly pictures, about the famous Stettheimer Dollhouse in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I got it through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.

Davita’s Harp: This is the my Book Club's current book. I’m hosting in May, so I'd better finish it.

Short Story Collections: Hubby and I have a tradition of reading in the car on road trips. He prefers short stories, so we are always starting a new short story collection with each trip. The trouble is that we seldom finish one, but with my Teutonic need to finish all tasks, I cannot forget that they are sitting on my shelves, waiting to be read.

What would your ideal desert island book be? A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. This is cheating, because although it is always included on lists such as the Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, it is really a set of 12, separately-published novels, usually now published in four volumes of three novels each. But if I am going to be deserted on an island and can choose the book to bring with me, I’ll bend the rules a little.

Dance follows an intertwined group of friends and fellow travelers in England from 1914 to 1971. They move in an out of each other’s lives, from school days during World War I, through literary and political careers between the wars, to World War II and later pursuits. I could read it over and over again.

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? The Assistant by Bernard Malamud. I had never heard of this book until I came across it on Anthony Burgess’s list of 99 best novels. It is the story of an Italian-American stranger who works his way into the lives of an immigrant Jewish shopkeeper and his family. Malamud perfectly portrays the grinding worries of running a mom-and-pop grocery, but also brings out bigger themes such as the importance of education and an individual’s ability to overcome bigotry. Focusing on the value of loyalty, repentance, and personal responsibility, it is a story of the redemptive power of love and forgiveness. I think everyone should read it and that it would make a terrific high school book. Maybe it’s time to abandon A Separate Peace.

Do you have any reading superstitions? If so, what are they and have they ever been proven to be correct? This did not start as a superstition, more like a ritual, but it is so ingrained in me that I guess I am now superstitious about it – I certainly never read a book without following this “rule”: I do not look to see how many pages are in a book until I finish reading the 100th page. I don’t associate any consequences with the habit, but I also have never broken the rule.

How this started, I couldn’t really say. It’s not like I wanted to give a book a fair chance before deciding whether to finish it or not, because I virtually never abandon a book once I start it. It was more like I thought, if the book is going to be slow and dense, at least I would have accomplished something before I faced the reality of just how long it was going to take to finish it.

Do you buy books or borrow them from the library? Either way, what is your favourite place to get books and why? I buy most of the books I read because they have to sit and mellow for a long time on my shelves before I am in the mood to read them. It can sometimes take years for a book on my TBR shelves to percolate up to the top of my conscious and make me want to read it. I buy most of my books used, and particularly like library book sales and Friends of the Library book stores.

But I use my library a lot because I get audio books on CD from the library and load them into my iTunes library to play on my iPod. I have always enjoyed audio books on long road trips, but getting an iPod turned me into a real audio book zealot. The Multnomah County Library has a very good website with a dependable search engine. Instead of having to take pot luck from whatever is on my branch’s shelf when I pass by, I periodically search the library web site for books from my myriad Must Read lists, order what they have on CD, and load them into iTunes. There are over 50 TBR audio books in my iTunes library right now, including War and Peace, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Lord of the Rings. As I make my way through these, I delete them to make room for the next batch.

How do you decide what to read next? Too often, it seems I choose to read a book because of some obligation, either because Book Club is coming up, or I got the book from a publisher and promised a review, or a friend wrote it and gave me a copy. I am trying hard to limit those obligations so I can get back to reading what I feel like reading.

But there should be some rhyme or reason to my choices or I will never get through all these Must Read lists I keep track of, let alone the 800-plus books currently sitting on my TBR shelves. So I have developed a totally idiosyncratic method of picking my next book:

My TBR books are arranged alphabetically on the shelves. When I am ready for a new book, I choose one from the first shelf. The next time, I chose one from the next shelf, and so on through the shelves. My rule is that I can choose any book on the designated shelf, but I have to chose from that shelf. So if I am in the mood for a prize winner, I can chose a prize winner, or a mystery, a book by a favorite author, a book I’ve been meaning to read but keep putting off – whatever the mood is, I chose a book to fit that mood. But only from the one shelf.

OK, actually describing this system makes it sound really nuts. Like, Rainman-level nuts. But there you have it.

If you'd like to be featured on The Reading Lamp, just drop me an email at colleen at bookphilia dot com!


Yuri... said...

Enjoy Davita's Harp. I have absolutely loved Potok since first reading the Book of Lights back in high school. My Name is Asher Lev still resonates strongly with me, and is high on my "must reread" list

Nan said...

This was so interesting to read! Honestly, I think Mr. Monk freed us all from our ocd stuff. :<) I esp. liked the choosing from a particular shelf. A fun little game, I would enjoy. I also like the idea of a book 'percolating' - it makes me look at having books on the shelf for a long time in an entirely different way. I have no 'teutonic' propensities whatsoever. :<) I quit a book the minute I don't like it with no looking back, no regrets. This is my reading mantra - that it is a pure pleasure with no 'must' or 'have-to' involved. Thanks for a fascinating posting.

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

Bookphilia -- Thanks for letting me participate! This was fun! I posted a link on Rose City Reader.

Yuri -- I am enjoying D.H. It is the first of Potok's books thatI have read. I am looking forward to reading more of his novels.

Nan -- Funny! I do feel a little like Monk with my 100 page rule and book picking rituals.

Stacy said...

I would love to see Malamud on a high school reading list. Thank you for giving us a look into your reading life. I have not heard of the Powell book but will be adding it to my list of books to check out. Very clever getting all those volumes onto the island:)

Anonymous said...

to RCR,,,,you have inspired me to organize my reading habits, and to keep going through the lists that my daughters share with me......"lost in bend"

Sandra said...

I really like this feature. And your book blog. I came over from Rose City Reader to see what she had to say. I've loved every Potok book I've ever read. I enjoy Maugham's short stories too. I may put A Dance to the Music of Time on my tbr list since you like it so much, Rose. It's very interesting to know the reading habits of fellow bloggers. And I've recently reviewed The Echo Maker here if it interests you:

I will be back to read this feature and more of your blog again.