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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

There’s something artificial about any numbered list of “bests.” Criteria are fluid and subjective. You can cheat by allowing for “ties” and end up with more than the stated number. Or heck just make it the “50 best” say, rather than the 10 best or whatever. My own list of 10 all time favorite novels is constantly changing. I add new ones as I read them. I remember ones from the past that need to be included. But, for what it’s worth, here’s the list as it stands right now, in NO particular order.

flowers-cover

 

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keys

night flight

 

Night Flight, Antoine de St. Exupéry

tree brooklin

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

 

 

 

 

color purple

 

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

 

age of innocence

 

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

 

The Circle

 

The Circle, Dave Eggers

 

 

The Wall 2

 

The Wall, John Hersey

 

grapes of wrath

 

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

 

Pere Goriot

 

Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac

 

 

cry beloved

 

Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton

 

 

 

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love machineThere is a famous incident about Jacqueline Susann. She was on an episode of The David Frost Show, which aired on July 16, 1969, promoting her novel The Love Machine. After a discussion of Susann’s appeal and business tactics, a critic, John Simon, spoke up. He demanded to know whether Susann was trying to write art or trash. Jackie did the best she could to counteract his apparently hostile challenge and the exchange became heated and snarling. What I wished then, and now, is that someone had brought up the obvious point. Those are not the only two choices and I refuse to be trapped into thinking they are. I refuse to accept what is a false dichotomy. John Simon, it seemed to me, was just trying to create a stir. Whether he intended to hurt Ms. Susann, I have no idea. But I would have wanted to ask him, “Okay, in which category do you place Kipling? Douglas Adams? Maeve Binchy? But mostly, why is there a need for categories at all?” compareVery few of us writers will end up in the same class as either, say, Toni Morrison on the one hand or [fill in the name of some trashy writer here] on the other. There’s a ton of great writing out there in between the extremes that will never win the Pulitzer or the Nobel but is still worthy and entertaining. My last post counseled all of us writers not to compare our output with others. Likewise we need to avoid denigrating the quality of our own work by wishfully comparing ourselves to Jane Austen or Philip Roth. I had a writer acquaintance a few years ago who had a very successful career writing romance novels. Yet she fell short of her own ambitions. “The novel I wish I could write is ord pepe 3Ordinary People [by Judith Guest].” Meanwhile, most of her friends would have killed to have had her level of success. Sure, we all want to be the best writers we can be. But writing quality, like quantity, is all on a continuum and we each have our place on it.

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flowers-coverAs a frequent user of our local library, I enjoy taking part in many of the programs offered. So I was delighted to see a new one crop up. The Adult Reading Challenge encourages people to read in a genre or field they wouldn’t normally choose. The first month, September, was dedicated to Science Fiction or Fantasy. I never, ever read SF. It was a genuine challenge from my point of view, and I was eager to get started. But, what to read? Should I just pick something from the New Book shelf? Or try one of the traditional giants, like Heinlein or Herbert? Or what about our home-grown star, Octavia Butler, whose papers now reside at The Huntington Library? Then, at a bookstore, I noticed the classic Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and saw that it had won both a Nebula and a Hugo, both awards given for Science Fiction. It was also the basis for the movie Charly, I checked the library catalog and they had a copy.

Put aside the fact that I sobbed for an hour after I read the last lines. This book is now in my top ten list of best novels ever written. And I never would have picked it up without the Adult Reading Challenge. Sure, there are prizes and incentives. But the value for me was being semi-forced to read a book that I never would have gotten around to otherwise and that has enriched my life. So, thanks to whomever came up with this idea. It worked for me.

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WTF

One can never have too many bookmarks

One can never have too many bookmarks

So many acronyms regarding books: TR (to read); TBR (to be read) WTR (want to read); CR (currently reading). So far I’m the only person I know who uses WTF (want to finish). I have shelves of half finished, partially finished, or barely-cracked-the-covers-of books.  To be clear (TBC?) these are all books I want to finish.  I’m not the kind of reader who feels like I must finish every book I start.  Heck, no.  If a book is plain bad, out it goes.  I don’t care about the time I’ve already invested.  I don’t think, optimistically, well, maybe it will get better.  Fie on that.  Life is short and there are thousands of fabulous reading experiences to be had.  On to the next.  But I still end up with shelves notable mostly for the sparkling collection of bookmarks that adorn them.  There’s always a reason for putting down a book in mid-read, often that some other (usually newer) book has caught my eye.  I may have a book review deadline looming, and that book then takes precedence.  Library books trump books I own, since I’d rather not pay overdue fines.  I also read multiple books at once, necessitating bookmarks in each volume of the current stack.  Those are some of the practical reasons.  There are other, less tangible ones.  Many books start out slow, with background, before they really get going.  I have trouble disciplining myself to plow through it, but I’m afraid to skip over it in case I need the information later.  So, I stall.  Other books turn out to be not quite what I expected.  Yet, they have appeal and I still believe I want to know what’s in them.  Like many readers, I have shelves and shelves of books that I haven’t even begun yet, in addition to the ones I’ve already started.  The WTF books, however, are a class all their own.  A while back, I decided to dedicate one month to working my way through my WTF collection.  I got nowhere.  Since I no longer have to read assigned material for work or school, there’s just too much pleasure in jumping from one subject to another, one genre to another, as my fancy suits me, or as whatever time slot I have allows.  Meanwhile, I do actually finish tons of books, at least two a week.  But the stellar offerings just keep coming, more than anyone can read in a lifetime.  To which I say, YEAH!

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The Free Table behind our local library.

The Free Table behind our local library.

It used to be the “free bench.” Against the back wall of our local library, handy to the parking lot, there were a couple of old benches. They sat under the building’s overhang, so they had some protection from what little inclement weather we get in this dry climate. People dropped off books and magazines they no longer wanted and anyone was welcome to take whatever was there. The free bench was a regular stop for a large segment of the population, both for browsers hoping to pick up something to read and for others, clearing out their shelves. Or basements, attics and garages.

Then, a few years ago, for their community service project, the local Boy Scouts built a sturdy wooden table, covered with a slanted shingle roof to house the free materials.  This spot is as much a part of the community as the parks, sidewalk cafés and post office.  You regularly run into friends, neighbors and familiar dogs.  Sometimes there’s a wealth of stuff, other times it’s slim pickings.  You never know what’s going to show up and many folks (yeah, me) stop by every day.  (In my defense, I live only a block and a half away, and walk to the library nearly every day in any case.)

Things look a little (ahem) scattered in this photo, but volunteers often take the time to sort, organize and arrange materials. Not only do private citizens make items available, but when the library weeds its collection, sometimes the discards also end up here.

This is not a particularly new or unique idea.  Many libraries have a shelf or a bin inside their facility for giveaways, especially outdated magazines.  One workplace I knew had a shelf in the break room for the same purpose.  Staff members could drop off books for others to enjoy. (See also the Little Free Library concept.)

A patron browses the offerings on the "free table."

A patron browses the offerings on the “free table.”

To the right of the table, there is a set of concrete steps that lead down to a door into a basement area.  Signs tell people to leave donations which are of better quality or in better condition for the Friends of the Library used book sale there instead of putting them on the free table. Signs also request that browsers not rummage through those boxes and bags, which are property of the Friends, and most people comply. Not everybody follows the suggestion about the best books going to benefit the Friends, however, and amazing treasures show up on the free table.  More about that in another post.

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In the previous post, I talked about where books come from. But once a reader has read them, where do they go? I know several people who keep their books—every one of them—even after they’ve read them, presumably forever. I’m not like that. I know I’m unlikely to re-read a book and I hate stuff piling up. If you regularly weed your books, you already have methods or places for disposing of them.  But here’s a list of options anyway.

  •  Friends of the Library, for their used book sales (occasionally, depending on Friends’ and the Library’s policies, these may end up in the Library’s collection.)
  •  Donations to thrift shops, either ones run by small local organizations, or the Big Boys of thrift shops, e.g. The Salvation Army. Our local Goodwill actually has a separate store, just for used books. For these first two options, you can usually get a tax deduction.
  •  Pass them on to friends who want to read them.
  • Drop them off at a senior center, women’s shelter or similar place, if they are appropriate.
  •  Sell them on line. There are a ton of used book buying web sites, each with their own preferences for what they buy and condition requirement, or you can go through eBay or Amazon.
  •  Sell them to used book stores or trade them in for other used books. My sister single handedly keeps Florida’s Chamblin Bookmine in business. Lots of used book stores have this model.
  •  If you have something truly unique and valuable, a rare book or special collections library might be interested. But don’t count on it.  This is a long shot.

(Reader Discretion Advised: The following suggestion may be upsetting for some readers.)

  •  Toss them out. Yes, in the trash. Drastic? Yes. Unthinkable? Not to me. I’m not one of those folks who think the physical artifact is a sacred treasure. (Unless, of course, it is a sacred treasure—a rare book, a family heirloom, a childhood favorite.) Nor do I think that every single book deserves to be recycled to some other needy reader. As I wrote in the previous post, books are everywhere in abundance. Nobody needs to be stuck with really bad ones. Plus, there comes a point when a book is so damaged, dirty or otherwise yucky, that it would be a sin to foist it off on someone else. If you are a fan of the TV shows Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive as I am, you know what I mean.
  •  Finally, leave them on the “free table.” I mentioned this in the previous post and I promised to tall more about it in the future.

There are a couple of tricky situations that can gum up the works.  I’ll talk about them in the next post.  A final word:  if you keep all your books forever, none of this will apply to you. Just your heirs.

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If there were a survey that asked “Where/how do you acquire your books? (mark all that apply)”, my response would look something like this:

  • Traditional bookstores
  • Used bookstores
  • Online
  • Thrift shops
  • Other stores, e.g. supermarkets, home and garden centers, office supply stores
  • Yard sales
  • Library book sales
  • Borrow from library
  • Borrow from friends
  • Gifts from friends
  • From the author (at book signings/readings)
  • Books laying around on bus benches or in coffee houses (some of these may be from Book Crossing or other similar endeavors)
  • Little Free Library (and if you don’t know about these yet, please visit the site)
  • the free table (I’ll talk about this in a future post).

If you are a reader (and you know who you are), you have a similar (long) list.

And for one more new idea for getting books to the people, check out the “pop-up”, open air reading rooms provided by The Uni Project.

Books are everywhere.  Life is good.

 

 

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