16 April 2010

Book Love

I have recently had a reading "dry spell." It isn't that I haven't read anything. In fact, like most humans who read, I read almost constantly. I look at labels in the grocery store, I note street signs and public advertising, I scan my incoming bills and bank statements, and I glance through the newspaper. To paraphrase Descartes: "I read, therefore I read." What I mean to say is that I haven't read anything good.

"Ah, 'good,'" you say. "How subjective." And, of course, you're right. I could tell you what I have attempted to read but that isn't totally fair. For the record, my analysis is that one was well written, just not on a topic that caught my interest. I thought the other rather badly written for such a fine scholar. It wandered almost as much as did my attention. But it isn't that either book was good or bad, but simply that they left me so unsatisfied.

I work in a library and consider myself a professional, so it is with some chagrin that I managed to come up with two losers in a row.

There seems to be a number of methods for choosing a book to read. If you are a sheep, you can read the NYT (or in all fairness, almost any other) book review. I find these uber snarky. Sort of in the "You are obviously too cretinous to possibly know a good book when you see it, so let me choose for you" category. "Wait!" say you. "How about you, Ms. self-important blogger?" And I would concede, except for one fine point: I have the sneaking suspicion that these reviewers have a vested interest in how a book review slants. Do I sell books? Do I receive galley copies? I think not. By the way, as previously mentioned, "bestselling" does not necessarily mean worthwhile.

If you really trust your friends' opinions, you can take their advice. That strikes me as dangerous: will I look at my friends differently when I read their books and find that they (the books, of course) reek? How will we look each other in the eye? What will we say to one another? Bashing a person's book choices can be as personal as criticizing their date.

You could read synopses from reputable publications. These (theoretically) don't have the taint of the reviewer's ego. It would be a respectable method as long as you factor in the particular biases of the publisher. There is also a matter of the skill and accuracy of those writing such briefs. Think TV programming guides. I rest my case.

I tend toward a tried and true method: the "strolling down the isles of the bookstore or library" method. I will admit that attractive cover art can sway me. When you think about it, this is the same method as falling in love. You scan the candidates; one makes your heart beat a little faster! You take some time, learn more, hold and touch, evaluate and weigh the relative merits. Then you commit. Sure, once in a while, it doesn't work out, and you are disappointed. But I am a believer that a great book, like enduring love, is just around the corner.

So back to the stacks we go, looking for the One.

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