Thursday, August 19, 2010

In Which I Reflect a Bit on Reading

I don't often do memes, but I've been picking up more reading lately, and Corra's post inspired me to answer these questions for myself.

1. Favorite childhood book?

One? One favorite? Oh, dear. I loved The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynn Reid Banks in second grade—that probably holds the title for most beloved book at a particular point in my life. But I also had a dearly loved, gorgeously illustrated copy of Sleeping Beauty (that part where the bad fairy disguised as an old woman tricks the princess into jabbing her finger on the spindle? My dad did the best toothless old lady bit during that part). And the Chronicles of Narnia will always be favorites of mine.

2. What are you reading right now?

The Pillars of the Earth, at the suggestion of my friend June.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

I wish I had Sahib: The Story of the British Soldier in India 1750-1914 on request. But you can’t request it if someone above you in the university library pecking order has it out—SERIOUSLY. You know who you are, person who isn’t likely to be reading this blog. But if you are—return it, please. Or give it to me for, say, a week.

4. Bad book habit?

I start too many books. And I borrow books from friends and take forever to read them.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Do you want the whole list? It’s long...they’re all research books that relate to the current WIP. Masters of the Air (about the Eighth Air Force in WWII), Goodbye, Piccadilly (about British War Brides), On the Farm Front (about the American Women’s Land Army in WWII), several others. All piled ingloriously on my armchair.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

No...I’d use one if I had one. Mostly for historical documents and manuscripts. I have a feeling I’ll have one after my birthday, though...

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I don’t know that it’s a preference...more of an addiction. I can’t help but have several going at the same time. This is partly because I always have research books and novels going--they just aren't replacement for one another :)

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Not terribly—but I do tend to take note of things I’d mention in a review more since posting reviews of books I’ve read.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)

Hmmm...I will say I was most disappointed in The Postmistress and leave it at that. Not necessarily least favorite, but biggest discrepancy between expectation and result.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

One favorite? Eeeep. I suppose Suite Francaise is my favorite from this year. Delicious. But hit up the Historical Fiction label on the side for the rest of the ones I loved.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Not very often—though I was just saying I should try some science fiction sometime because I know there’s good stuff out there and I’ve never even sampled.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Historical fiction, historical nonfiction, literary fiction (to a point), classics. Poetry. The Bible.

13. Can you read on the bus?

Sometimes I feel like I might yack if I read on anything moving.

14. Favorite place to read?

On the back porch, on a cool evening. Insects whirring and hopefully some nearby tree is blooming, so any breeze wafts a faint fragrance over my pages. Perfect.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I’m fine with lending “normal” books to people I trust—but my antiques aren’t going anywhere but from my shelf to my bedside table. I’m selfish like that.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

No, I have a little collection of bookmarks.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

No—feels wrong, like marking up a friend with a pen.

18. Not even with text books?

Some textbooks. I have a very particular highlighting system that I use.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

English. But I do enjoy reading in French, too (and not just to be pretentious).

20. What makes you love a book?

Beautiful language—words that do something more than simply propel a plot or share information. I want to take in my breath with delight the same way I do when I see a lovely sunset or an incredible painting.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

Usually because I know someone very well, and I’ve read something that resonated with me and I feel it would with them, too. Somehow recommending a book feels very personal to me.

22. Favorite genre?

Historical fiction.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Science fiction. My father adores sci-fi and is always telling me about all the books he’s read and loved, but I’ve never given it a chance. I think I ought to—I’m seeing him this weekend and might ask him to bring a copy of one of his favorites for me to test drive.

24. Favorite biography?

I don’t read much biography, honestly...but I do read a ton of memoir and diaries from the periods I research and write about. I love this diary from 1945 and this memoir by George Rogers Clark.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

No—clearly I’m beyond help. Not to get too cheesy, but when I feel I need guidance, I read the Bible.
26. Favorite cookbook?

The original Fannie Farmer cookbook. Just the basics. Most of it sounds awful and uses lard but you know it's delicous.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

Anything by Irene Nemirovsky. Suite Francaise changed my (writing) life. Seriously. Took my breath away.

28. Favorite reading snack?

I rarely eat while reading! A cup of coffee, maybe. Or a glass of cold white wine on that back porch I mentioned.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

It was my own fault—The Postmistress again. I kept seeing it and I think I mostly built it up in my own head. To be fair, I still haven’t read Harry Potter because I’m worried about hype...I think I’m almost safe now.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I don’t really read critics. I’m not awfully interested in their opinions when it comes to picking books, to be honest—I like what I like, and I think that’s how reading ought to be. They can be fun to read to see if what they thought matched up with your impression, but I don't take the whole thing very seriously in the book-selection process.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I like honest reviews—my own and other’s. I’m often interested in what others thought about a novel, whether I agree with it or not. And it’s impossible to have dialogue about art of any kind, literature included, without honesty. I don’t approve of reviews that are venomous, or that don’t say what they didn’t like—if a reviewer gives a rationale, I can see what he or she was reading for—and I’ll know if it’s something that would likely disappoint me, too. It becomes like a conversation. I hope my own reviews are the same.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

I do read in French sometimes—I should read more. I would love to learn Arabic. And Russian.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

Ok, starting Pillars of the Earth was hard—that book is huge! But I'm getting pulled right in and taken along with it with no problem.

And the first time I ever had to read a novel in French for a college course. Loved it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

Anything Russian. Dang, those Russian novelists were long-winded! But I enjoy Russian short fiction, so I feel like I should take the plunge with Anna Karenina or one of its ilk...

35. Favorite Poet?,,, Archibald Lampman...wait, Yeats...

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

Either zero or eight. It goes in cycles.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

Not very often—I usually sit in the library browsing for long enough that I know I want to take something home, and am really excited to get it home with me!

38. Favorite fictional character?

Martha Peake and Harry, from Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath. They should have been completely unbelievable, but they captured me completely.

39. Favorite fictional villain?

Most of my favorite books don’t have villians...they might have antagonists, but not straight-up baddies. Hmmm. I have always liked The Wicked Witch of the West. Best cackle ever (my mom and I claimed waaaay before Wicked came out that those shoes really were hers by right).

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

Something lightweight that I don’t mind losing. Second-hand paperbacks, mostly.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

I didn’t read for enjoyment very much in college. I was reading enough other stuff. So perhaps a semester at a time without a book I picked for myself.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

Actually, there would be quite a few in this list, so I'll share my newfound appreciation for allowing oneself to put down a book if one isn't enjoying it instead. I've brought home a few library books, friend-lent books, and gifts, gotten fifty pages in, and thought to myself, "Self, I don't terribly much care what happens next. And the words are a dime a dozen." And then I put the book down...and after years of abiding by the "start it, finish it" policy, this is wonderfully liberating.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

Everything? I’m very easily distracted—I like to keep moving. If I'm watching a movie, I'm also sewing or knitting or cleaning something--it's hard to keep my hands still. And if the weather is nice, it’s hard to keep me inside. I want to go for a walk.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

Atonement. I loved the book, and the film really captured the essence of the story, of the themes. I’ve never seen that quite so deftly done.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

I refuse to see the Narnia movies--I'm disappointed they were even attempted. I have a great respect for CS Lewis, and he said once he never wanted these books made into movies, so I won't see the film version out of respect for him.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

I can remember $500 semesters in college. But for my own books, for my own enjoyment? Perhaps $25. I like to spread my buying out.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Page 99 Test, all the way. Honestly, I'll often read a borrowed copy before I buy. I'm terribly cheap.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

Poor writing. Or unrealistic storylines or character development. Or abso-flippin-lutely nothing happening. Or aliens suddenly appearing and taking over the storyline.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

Yeah...they used to be organized alphabetically, but it didn’t work space-wise. Now they’re arranged by size. The DVDs are alphabetical by title, though.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

A little of both. I borrow a lot, but real favorites I’ll buy. And I’ll buy bargain table books a lot and give away the ones that I likely wouldn’t read again.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

Avoiding in the sense that other people tell me I need to read it but I just won’t? Twilight. No, friends and family, I am not interested.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

Everything else I’ve read by Ian McEwan after reading Atonement. So here I am, adoring Atonement, savouring every beautiful phrase—and everything else I read feels heavy-handed, overwrought. Uninteresting and terribly depressing. Same story for Patrick McGrath after Martha Peake.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

1984 and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Both the result of a “didn’t read this in high school and everyone else seemed to” swap with a friend. Both with very good reasons they’re on high school reading lists! Those, and The Odyssey, which I read in high school and everyone else hated but I secretly adored.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

It must sound by now that I really hate The Postmistress. I didn’t hate it that much. One more for good measure—Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet just didn’t quite deliver for me, either.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

Anything! I really don’t feel guilty about any of my reading—should I?

Feel free to use and answer! Or--in the comments--what's your biggest book habit? The best book you read this year?


Brownpaperbaggirl said...

My worst book habit? Buying too many books. And, if I become a tad too anxious about the well-being of the characters, I'll flip through, scanning for their names to make sure they are still alive and breathing!

sharmon said...

It was nice to find someone else who reads multiple books at the same time...well, you know what I mean! I always have at least 3 but usually more going all at the same time, plus one or two magazines I subscribe to, and daily Bible reading. I think it should be like a really well stocked buffet :-). There's something to read for every mood and time-slot. I didn't really realize that other people don't do this till we were discussing it around the dinner table one day.
My worst book habits would be dog-earing (bookmarks always fall out! but never books that are loaned by friends) and eating all over the pages. There are few things I enjoy more than reading while eating.
Thanks for the book tips; I added to my reading list!

smander said...

I also read multiple books. I have a stack of them on by bedside table and a row of them lined up against the wall next to the bed. It means whenever I need to vacuum I have to haul them all up. book in the last couple of months is On Writing by Stephen King. LOVED IT. It inspired me to get back to my writing and made me feel all warm and fuzzy about what I was doing!

p.s. a bit of self promo: I just had an art review published. Id be stoked if you checked it out on my blog!

Rowenna said...

BPG--I can hear that--I often get too invested in the characters and have to know that they're going to be all right--or not, so I can prep myself.

Sharmon--I'm glad I'm not the only book bouncer :)

Smander--I know what you mean, I often have a stack on the nightstand that threatens to topple over. Sadly, I've finished reading half the stack but haven't taken them "home" yet...

mesmered said...

I loved reading this blog, Rowenna. It's enlightening to see others' reading habits and I agree with you on so many points. I don't read multiples but I'm guilty of quick decisions in the library and therefore am disappointed and often take a number back opened but closed very quickly. Love the page 99 test and shall adopt forthwith.

Carrie C said...

Rowenna, I think we're reading soulmates! I would have answered just the same to many of those questions. So I feel empowered to really encourage you to read Anna Karenina, or even (I know) War and Peace. Both blew my socks off - lovely, insightful and, above all, gripping.