20 February 2010

So many books, so little time...

I find that as I grow older, the books I read become more important to me. What follows may offend the sensitive reader, so beware.

There was a time when I would finish a book, page by page consecutively, no matter what. I felt duty-bound to read a book through no matter how I hated it. Then, almost suddenly, I changed. I can almost pinpoint the moment. I was reading a book hailed by that most exalted judge the New York Times Bestseller list. A wiser (read older) me realizes that a book that sells the most isn't necessarily the best book. It is very seldom the best book for me. The book that changed me was a biography about a person who, very early in the book, seemed to me the most selfish, self absorbed and flamboyantly vulgar person I had ever been introduced to. Somewhere before the first chapter closed, I clapped the book shut and threw it away! Heresy! I won't mention the book or the subject of the biography. It matters little anyway, and is quite beside the point. At that moment, I was liberated from a life of unsatisfactory reading.

Of course, once that cat was out of the bag, I gave way to some pretty radical behaviors: if at some juncture I itched to know how a story ended, I would read the end (scanning backwards sometimes, to satisfy myself about the outcome). If the book ended well, in my estimation, I continued. (I hate being cheated at the end.) I skipped or skimmed chapters if I felt they didn't add to the story. And I very often stopped reading entirely. I developed the philosophy that if a writer couldn't bother to engage me within a reasonable amount of time, I would not plug through vast swamplands waiting for them to deliver. There are so many books to be read. So many interesting, informative, contributory, inspiring, worthy books. I won't be able to read even those in my lifetime. Why waste time on the drivel? And confess - we've all read drivel.

So writers, take heed. I am your new discerning public. Impress me (and be sure to do it in the first few pages!)

15 February 2010

What Must be Read

This has been a week of reading what must be read. Not that there isn't some pleasure to be had in technical reading. But the very fact that it carries a sense of obligation does take away some of the shine. To balance things out, I watched old Bugs Bunny cartoons this afternoon(still funny after all these years, at least for those of us of a certain age).

The reading in question is a quest to choose a new thesis topic. I may go down in history as one of the very few who have had to write two theses. Judge me, dear reader, but I trust it is because I am a good writer but a bad salesman. The area of study is Art History, preferably something regarding the Northern Renaissance. Art fans out there - I am open to suggestions!

We are experiencing heaps of snow here in the Ohio Valley. If you are from Washington, D.C. and other places, I'm sure you probably will not spare any grief over our 12 inches or so. Indeed, I am seeing this as a blessing - it's just inconvenient enough to go out that I am making myself productive inside instead. I had to laugh about the sign I saw on the local news that someone had posted in their front yard, "Thank God for global warming. This could be worse!" And for many of you it is. I hope that you can all, wherever you are reading this, be warm inside with a good book.