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Fifteen Things about Books (09 July 2006 - 8:21 a.m.)

Saw this at Bevís place...

1.) I love books. Writer Susan Sontag observes that "the old phrase, 'losing yourself in a book,' is not an idle fantasy but an addictive, model reality." Reading is certainly one of my more positive addictions. I donít mind committing emotional energy to a book. Reading is an activity that temporarily redirects the emotional energy I'd otherwise be investing in my own troubles. My voracious appetite for reading reflects this desire to divert some of that emotional energy into something more pleasurable and less intimately consequential than private (and sometimes seemingly endless) problems or disappointments.

2.) Besides the "escape" factor, I also love to read for the pure, physical pleasure of it. I thrill to the feel of a book in my hands, and have even been known to sniff the pages. There is a particular kind of paper I occasionally come across that has an almost heady fragrance to it. Aesthetically, I prefer hardcovers, despite their bulk, but, if I am going to buy a book (rather than borrow from the library or a friend,) for economical reasons, I usually wait to make the purchase until it comes out in paperback, unless it's something I can't wait to read.

3.) I don't necessarily seek out ďlightĒ distractions when it comes to reading. I tend to get impatient with "happily ever after" type stories. Typically, books that attract me are often dark and disturbing in nature.

4.) While my preference is fiction over non-fiction, I lean towards realism, although fantasies certainly do take flight in my mind fairly frequently. But, they're MY fantasies, not Barbara Cartland's, or Danielle Steele's. (For the record, I have never read either of those authors.) I'm not putting any of the above (or others who enjoy them) down. I'm just saying that the fanciful "true love conquers all" doesn't appeal to ME. I just don't believe love is a panacea for all of life's hardships, as is indicated in the romance novel. That is not to say I don't EVER find satisfaction in a happy ending. I do, provided the events that lead up to it are plausible. During a conversation Daniel and I once had on this subject, he said, ď"That's why I prefer novels to poetry. I can only give credence to an author's profundity if it has been 'hard won.' In my opinion, bold imagery is best appreciated when there is a context to it - when it has been 'earned' through absorbing and compelling plot and characterization." Thatís what Iím talking about!

5.) While Iím not really into ďchick lit,Ē I do very much enjoy lit by chicks (Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Jane Smiley, Ann Tyler, Alice Hoffman, etc.). I also like to read about other cultures. Some of my all-time favorite books are Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany, Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. I also thoroughly enjoyed all six of the "Harry Potter" books.

6.) Speaking of Harry Potter, I am absolutely dreading the next book because it is to be the last one, and author J.K. Rowling has revealed that at least two characters will die in the seventh and final installment of the series. I will be very displeased if itís Hagrid and/or Ron. If itís Harry, Iíll be disgusted. Sure, these books are popular with adults, but kids made Harry Potter a phenomenon. Is it really necessary to break the hearts of children?

7.) Several years ago, I went to a John Irving reading at Vassar College. He treated the audience to a chapter from his then in progress A Son Of The Circus. The selection he chose was about smuggling something into another country by stashing it inside a dildo. Mr. Irving went on and on at great length about this dildo. I inwardly marveled at his knowledge of such things, and couldn't help but snicker to myself as I imagined the kind of research that was involved.

At the end of the reading, there was a question and answer period, during which the most banal and predictable questions were asked. I was embarrassed for the audience. Shortly after that, I succumbed to a bad case of the sillies, and wrote the author a letter describing how disappointed I was with the questions that were asked the evening I saw him. I went on to say that I had lacked the courage to stand up and ask my own, far superior question, which was: "How come you know so much about dildos?" He actually wrote back, saying, "Good question!"

I thought nothing more about any of this until a few years later, when I was reading his next book, A Widow For One Year. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I got to a section that was about an author doing a reading in New York, and the disappointing question and answer session that followed. If memory serves me correctly, Mr. Irving even went so far as to mention DILDOS. In my opinion, I should have been acknowledged in the credits for providing inspiration. Harumph. (By the way, the book I am currently reading is Irvingís Until I Find You.)

8.) There are only two books I can recall not finishing. One was Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. I went through a period where I was enthralled by Dickensí work, and it really surprised me when I couldnít get into this novel. I plugged on for a while, but then wondered why I was forcing myself to read something I wasnít enjoying, and that was the end of that. The other book I never finished was Herman Melvilleís Moby Dick. I got pretty far, but put the book down during a move, and never picked it up again. It is my intention to get back to it some dayÖ

9.) I adore Stephen King. For me, his books serve as escapism from the horror of real life. I have a couple of cool Stephen King experiences to relate. Years ago, I stood next to him at a Bruce Springsteen concert. I was tickled to see that he had brought along a book to read while waiting for the show to begin. My other Stephen King experience had to do with his book, Danse Macabre. In it, Mr. King suggested dropping him a self-addressed postcard (in care of his publisher) if the reader wanted to know who or what somebody or something he mentioned was. (This was quite a while ago, and I donít remember the exact details.) I took the bait, and was surprised and delighted when he actually replied!

10.) Mrs. Dowd, my 10th grade English teacher, turned me onto Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I have since read and re-read all of his work. I also read Tolstoy (War and Peace and Anna Karenina) but he bores and frustrates me.

11.) I am a disciplined reader, and never peek ahead at whatís to come.

12.) When my daughters were little, we made weekly trips to the library, and checked out 24 books each time. Every night, we hopped into my bed and read four books. (On the seventh night, we chose books from our personal collection.)

13.) The lifelong satisfaction many of us have derived from books is a testimony to how empowering reading to our children can be. From such a simple, yet nurturing activity, inquisitiveness and a love of learning can develop. Fondly remembered books from my own childhood are heavy on the Dr. Seuss and, to this day, I take great pleasure in Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Sox, etc. Having children of my own exposed me to a new world of children's literature with more modern classics like the delightful Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. As an adolescent, I went through the Nancy Drew stage, moved on to Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, and then Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, William Golding, and, of course, J.D. Salinger. Although the aforementioned authors (the British ones, at any rate) wrote about romantic entanglements, the intricate plots were not without plenty of conflict. As I mentioned before, I like my happy endings to be hard won, and without too many descriptions of "heaving breasts," although I must admit that I like a titillating sex scene as well as the next per(vert)son. All I ask is that it be more nitty gritty than flowery.

14.) Iím not big fan of short stories, although there are some exceptions. Yesterday, for example, I read ďThe Most Dangerous Game,Ē by Richard Connell, and really liked it.

15.) So many books; so little time.

Song of the Day: Wrapped Up in Books by Belle & Sebastian

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