Archives: Reading

Between the Covers

“What are you reading, Ken?” I assume you are asking for purposes of today’s post.

I’m glad you asked. As usual, I have several books going at any one time. This week I finished “The Hunted” by Elmore Leonard. Typically outstanding work. It is also an example of how cell phones have changed everything. The same story could not be written as a contemporary piece. Still, excellent 70’s-vintage Leonard.

Lesser Problems

In the grand scheme of the things, the sweeping panorama of mankind’s struggles, it isn’t much of a problem. “Minuscule” gives it too much credit. But this is my web log and I’ll complain if I want to.

Seems to happen to me every time. I reserve a couple of books at the library, even putting the hold on different days or even weeks. But inevitably both books arrive for pick up AT THE SAME TIME. Grrr. Usually new releases as well, meaning I’m allowed less time to read them. C’mon library. I’m not single anymore. I’ve got a wife and kid. I can’t just come home from work, plop down on the couch and read until 2AM. (If I did, I imagine I’d find myself single again pretty damn quick.)

Absorbing Reading

Victoria Valentina listening to Daddy read his latest story.

Victoria Valentina listening to Daddy read his latest story.

How deeply do you become involved in a story? Are you an outcome based reader? That is, do you read a story only to find out what happens, whodunit, how the plot resolves? Or do you plunge completely into the fictional world? Do you laugh aloud at the jokes and unexpected twists? Do characters become so real to you that you mourn if they die or suffer loss? Do you set the book down and stare blankly at the wall as you absorb the news of a tragedy that’s befallen, imagining the reactions of the characters and the repercussions on the society?

Ever thrown the book across the room?

Book Backlog

I’m hip-deep in unread and partially read books. Normally I wallow happily in such a morass. Today instead  I’m feeling more inundated and borderline panicked.

The release date for event books, books I’ve waited months or years for often clump. At least it seems so. When I reserve them at the library they always seem to come in the same day. Or a long-expected book and a book that caught my eye in a reference in some article or other. I can reserve them months apart. They still await me at the library on the same damn day.

Autumn Reading

So, that’s it for summer then.  The first storm of autumn is rolling in from the Pacific, hammering the trees with wind gusts and dumping the contents of a few medium-size rivers onto Portland.

Perfect reading weather.

OK, it is always perfect reading weather, but humor me.  Does reading get more pleasant than being curled on the couch before a fire, a warm mug of tea at your elbow and a book in hand?  Rain may lash at the windows and drum on the roof, but when you are absorbed in a book the inclement weather either adds to the atmospherics or passes without notice.

Choices

The wife and I watched “This is 40” the other night. I’m glad we’ve several years of marriage under our belts, a solid relationship, and an appreciation of coarse humor. I wonder if anyone saw that on a first or second date. If so, was there a follow up date or did the flick provide too much fodder for speculation and second-guessing?

Picking the right movie for the occasion is more art than science. I can’t claim I’ve made the right call across the board. I once took a first date to a Sick and Twisted Animation Festival. What the hell was I thinking?

Choice is a mixed blessing, though the mix is overwhelmingly weighted positive. I remember a s a kid getting dropped off at the mall with a ten-dollar bill in my wallet. I’d head straight to the Walden’s or the B. Dalton’s and browse the science-fiction and fantasy paperbacks, searching for the title and cover that most captured my imagination. $2.75 or $2.95 would leave me with enough for a meal at the food court and a few bucks in quarters for the arcade. Choices and more choices, all of the good.

I find that selecting a new book to read now requires more consideration than it used to. My reading time is more constrained by the demands of life, and I am more aware now of the finite limits of my existence. The moments spent reading one book can never be recovered, selecting one book has eliminated another somewhere down the chronological road.

That makes book reviews important. Even more valuable, I think, is knowing the sort of think you like. Know what authors appeal to you. What general type of story pushes your particular buttons. A blurb indicating that author A writes in a style reminiscent of author B can help. A recommendation from a favored author can help. Check out the book store’s Staff Picks.

There are no guarantees but you can try to stack the odds in your favor.

I know that I have in the past advocated reading widely. I hold to that. I don’t see a contradiction. A well-rounded interior life provides plenty of room for multiple interests and preferences. You can read widely AND choose wisely.

Consolation – you can always learn from your mistakes.

Exploration

Our cat has been feeling her oats recently, testing boundaries. I’ve received numerous, somewhat distraught calls from my wife over the last few weeks informing me of the cat’s current escapades. Leaped from the deck into the yard. Scrambled up on the roof and refused to come down.

She’s exploring, seeing what lies beyond her usual confines. I can understand that. There can be a great deal of comfort in the familiar. Enjoyment, even. Familiar is not synonymous with dull. You have your usual because you like it.

But sometimes you want to step beyond the bounds of the familiar, see what is out there, same as the cat does.

Speculative fiction speaks to that. It opens up vistas far from the ordinary. That is part of the appeal of fantastic literature. But even the extraordinary can become commonplace given enough exposure. Science fiction and fantasy can grow stale, overly familiar and that can drive the urge to explore something new.

It is important, I think, to read widely. Do not confine yourself to a single genre. Pick up a mystery novel, a historical account, a biography. Hop down from the deck and have a sniff around at the wider world. It works for the cat.