Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Book Meme and Some Thoughts on What I've Been Reading Lately

Liz Fenwick tagged me for this meme on books and it presented me with some revelations about my recent habits. I swear, the meme is here somewhere, so just skip to the end of this blathering if you want to get to it faster.

I consider reading to be just as important to my writing as the actual writing and so the books I read tend to be selected for specific reasons. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a book to read, just because I thought it would be fun or entertaining. This surprised me. The good side of this coin is that because I’ve been reading books to gain insight into how they were written, it makes me realize that I have begun to look at writing (and the associated reading) in the same way I view learning a profession.

That can’t be all bad.

The other side of the coin is that reading has always been a happy diversion for me and I’ve been depriving myself of that pure escapism. Those books I picked up to read for the pure pleasure and entertainment of it all keep slipping to the bottom of the pile.

I can track this back to the weeklong retreat I attended with Lighthouse Writers Workshop in July. I knew some of the instructors were published authors and I wanted to read their books before I went. It would be just plain rude not to, right? There were also four books that would be discussed (the discussions were optional, but I’m an overachiever, so that was a no-brainer – of course I was going to read them all). I managed to slip in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as a challenge to myself and then I read Tobias Wolff’s Old School because he was coming to Denver and I was planning to attend three events where he’d be presenting or teaching or reading.

In October, I’ll be attending a class called Experimental Structures in the Novel. We’ll meet every other Thursday for eight weeks and we’ll discuss four novels that take unique approaches to story structure, so I’ve got quite a bit of my future reading mapped out. We’ll read The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (ha, finally ahead of the curve), If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. How could I pass up the opportunity to try out books like this with some actual adult supervision?

Now since my Lighthouse Writers Workshop instructor for the course is also a published novelist and short story writer, and he's had a story published in The New Yorker (yes) I’ve just started his book, Articles of War, which was listed by Esquire Magazine as one of the best books of the year. Nick Arvin’s book has also been named 2007’s One Book, One Denver selection! – More on that next week.

Prior to any of this, I signed up for the Writers Revealed Virtual Book Club and Away, by Amy Bloom is sitting quietly, waiting for me to pick it up so that I can participate in the discussion with the author on October 28th.

In the meantime, I have books by other bloggers sitting in piles unread -- including at least one blogger who I've tagged today! The exception of course is that I dropped everything to read the UK edition of Therese Fowler’s Souvenir that Larramie was so wonderful to send me in July – how could I not?! Everything else I have in that pile (and I promise you there are about a dozen) I really do want to read and I have not had time to open. I’m also a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and the latest release has been collecting dust for weeks.

I'm not even going to mention all of the books on writing and craft I've bought and read over the last year or so -- see my list of books I've read this year on the sidebar to get an idea about those. Yikes.

Is this a bad thing?

Is all of my “serious” reading making me a dull person? Seriously, I am NOT a great big poser trying to read all these smarty-mcsmart-smart books just to look smart. I do have a big sense of having missed out on taking literature classes in college because – oh yeah, I didn’t exactly go to college, so I feel like I’m making up for lost time.

Am I depriving myself of some good old-fashioned fun, or am I doing what I need to?

OK – on to the meme:

Total number of books?

I’m not sure if this means the total number I have now or the total number I’ve had in my life – hmm. I feel like I’m constantly purging the collection because books take over the houses where I live all the time. Looks like the average number of books on each bookshelf is 30 X 20 shelves = 600, oh my God, plus the piles of unshelved books on top of tables, on top of shelved books, stuck in cabinets, in boxes in the garage – Is there a 12-step program or rehab facility for this kind of obsession!? Do I need an intervention?

Last Book read?

I’m happy to report that earlier tonight I finished The Children’s Hospital, by Chris Adrian. I hope to post a review at The Book Book within the next few days.

Last Book Bought?

That could be the last one delivered or the last one ordered – yes, I buy way too many one-click selections from Amazon! I bought three at once (listed above) for the class on experimental fiction. Yesterday, Amazon delivered Look Me in the Eye, by John Elder Robison. It had been on pre-order with Amazon for quite a while.

Five meaningful Books?

So hard to say and I know I am forgetting so many books that touched me, but here goes. Books that really made me want to write and that were meaningful to me at different times in my life include: A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle, The Other by Thomas Tryon, The Dogs of March by Ernest Hebert, Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, and The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice.

Five People to Tag – Hmmmm – How About:

Karen at Beyond Understanding

Larramie at Seize a Daisy

Kristen at From Here to There and Back

Patti at the Patti-O

Carleen at The Pajama Gardener

Now I figure I'm one of the few people I've run across on these blogs who's attempting a "Back to School" type of experience -- just like Rodney Dangerfield, only please God, I hope I don't really look like Rodney Dangerfield!

How often do you pick up a book in order to study it, rather than purely for the enjoyment of reading it?


liz fenwick said...

Great post Lisa.......I'm reading The End of the Affair for learning not pleasure although it is a pleasure too. For my sins I'm in Susan Hill Creative Writing course and she suggests strongly that we read Greene and learn.......The only problem that I'm now finding is that my reading has slowed. I look at the words more closely and have to reread passages which never happened in the past when I read purely for pleasure....(or it could just be age :-))

susan said...

Because I'm starting on a huge backlog of books at a point on the other side of the hill, I've had to do both simultaneously. I can enjoy what I'm studying just as easily as I can learn something from the fluff and only wish I'd've been able to do this decades sooner!

susan @ spinning

kristen said...

Thanks for the tag...this was fun. I've already posted!!!

iyan and egusi soup: said...

i enjoyed reading this post, lisa!

i mostly read for enjoyment, but can't help studying certain aspects of craft as i go.

giovanni's room (james baldwin) is the last book i read purely for craft. chris abani recommended it to his novel group at the workshop i recently attended. baldwin's depiction of the main character's internal struggle is intense, yet delicate--brilliantly handled!

Carleen Brice said...

Oy. Now I've got work to do. :-) Seriously, thanks for the tag!

Ello said...

I loved Nick Arvin's book! I read that as research for my WWII book (funny given your post!) and really enjoyed it. It is such a short book you'll be able to swim through it. That is awesome to be able to take a class with him. Experimental structures, hmmm. Very interesting! I wish I was taking the class too, I would have so many questions for him.

I have to say that I do definitely read books just for pleasure whenever I can - unfortunately it is hard to carve out that time since I do so much reading for research - but since I love to research, in a way it is all pleasurable. This is funny to say, but alot of times I read children's books for pleasure. Like Harry Potter and other random kids books that I think my kids would like to read. I read it quickly before deciding if my kids would want it or not. I'm usually wrong. Sigh. But then my oldest is more like my husband, reading is not a passion.

Enjoy your classes! I'm envious.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I don't read as much as I should. Drank it up in my twenties. "Sophie's Choice," I read that, along with most of Styron's stuff. You know he recently died?

It is important to keep distractions at bay enough to continue to read, and thus both discover new modes of thought, experiences, as well as absorb a feel for language well-graced.

Therese said...

Dear Smarty McSmart-smart:

I am dazzled by your reading list, and also exhausted by it. Where is Jackie Collins? Where, Xaviera Hollander? James Patterson?

Sadly, I, too, find my list of recent reads heavy, and my reading-for-pleasure experiences whittled down to almost nothing. Such is the life of the ambitious, overachiever-type writer.

On the bright side, my reading list is lighter than it was when I was in the tightest stretch of the learning curve (you see, like a bell curve, the learning curve continues on, but more gently).

I am eager to see what product emerges from all this study of yours, at which time I will drop everything to read it.

Until then, sign me,
An admirer


Larramie said...

Um, thank you, Lisa...I think. ;)

Lisa said...

Liz, I completely understand what you mean. It takes much longer and it takes much more focus to read a lot of the books I'm reading than it does to read the more entertaining books.

Susan, You have the toughest reading list of anyone I know! It's good to know that you've found a rhythm though where you're able to enjoy them just as much. That's encouraging!

Kristen, Great picks and you've been an influence. I read On Chesil Beach because you recommended it and now I have Atonement and Saturday on the shelf...waiting.

Olufunke, that must have been a great workshop!

Carleen, hey, aren't you supposed to be finishing a book soon? :)

Ello, That is so cool! I will be sure to tell him about you when the class starts. I've decided that once I finish this workshop, I'm taking some down time through the holidays to read whatever I want!

Creechmark, thank you very much. You know I knew Styron suffered from depression for a long time and for some reason I was thinking he'd died a while back. I didn't realize it was so recently. I agree with you that reading has to be a big priority.

Therese, you are giving me hope with the idea that the bell curve smooths out! Thank you for that -- Ms. NC Smarty McSmart Smart :) I truly appreciate all of your encouragement and support. And thank you for stopping by!

Larramie, No -- thank YOU, I'm sure -- for sending me Therese's book -- and, I hope you don't mind that I tagged you. You don't have to do it if you don't want to :)

Calenhíril said...

I almost never pick up a book without some thought of enjoyment. Usually I will go through a book once for fun, then rereads will show me the wonders of the prose.

I am a pleasure-book addict, and I read fast, so rereads are no hardship. It usually means I'm not writing as much as I'd like to, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read more books for pleasure these days than I did a few years back. I always have at least one pleasure read going, but I'll be reading a few "educational" books at the same time. I quite often find that the pleasure book goes faster. Now I wonder why that would be?

Sustenance Scout said...

OK, I'm done! Thanks for the tag, kiddo! K.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! I find that I am reading more for "education" lately, giving myself a sort of personal MFA. Except for Friday nights, which tends to be chick lit night. ;)

I also usually have a couple of nonfiction books and at least one novel going at the same time. I'm trying to stop doing that, because then I don't remember anything!

debra said...

I have a stack of books on my night stand. The only problem is that I'm usually so tired that I can't concentrate! I adore books. I love how they feel, how they smell and the way their content enriches my life.

Lisa said...

Calenhiril, yes, I find when I'm reading a lot, I feel guilty that I'm not writing more and vice versa. If only there were more hours...

Charles, funny how that works, isn't it?

Karen, great post!

Mardougrrl, a personal MFA is exactly what I'm working on too!

Debra, I like to read in bed too, but sometimes I absolutely have to read sitting upright and in the light of day if it's a tougher read.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I find that I can't help but analyze everything I read. I'm poking along and think, "oh, nice sentence." Or, "ouch, that metaphor should have just been left out." I don't purposefully do this, but when a sentence really sings, I slow down and really listen to how the author structured it.

Lisa said...

Rebecca, I do exactly the same thing 95% of the time. I notice I am starting to loosen up a little though (about 5%). I've been enjoying Articles of War and forgetting to analyze it. I'm sure I'll literally have my highlighter out again though as soon as I start reading the Ford Madox Ford, the Sebald and the Italo Calvino. Virginia Woolf is kind of safe because I already marked up To the Lighthouse!

Shauna Roberts said...

Don't worry about your piles of unread books. (I suspect I have you beat by a lot.) Here's a quote I keep by my bookcases of unread books:

"The buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching for infinity and thtis passion is the only thing that raises us above the beasts that perish."

--A. Edward Norton (don't know who he is)

John Elder Robison said...

Have you been able to finish Look Me in the Eye yet? I'd love to know what you thought . . .

Lisa said...

Shauna, I need to print that out -- that's good!

Lisa said...

John, Wow! This is definitely a first! A NYT Best Selling author is asking what I think of his book. I am honored. I am about to go on a week long vacation and have packed some trades (so much lighter), but now I'm committed to reading it as soon as I get back -- AND I will post about it when I do. I have really been looking forward to this memoir and now I absolutely will read it by the end of the first week of November. Thank you so much for stopping by!

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf