Reading Wrap-Up: March Reads

March reads

My March reads reflect my current reading phase.

In the past, my reading phases were often based on place: Russian literature, Japanese literature, memoirs by or about Middle Eastern women. Then, a few years ago, I began reading primarily contemporary literary fiction. Maybe because I was engaging with book lovers on social media, I was hearing more about contemporary books. Maybe it was just where I was in my reading interests. Continue reading “Reading Wrap-Up: March Reads”

Modern Wisdom from Classic Books: The Human Condition

Modern Wisdom Through Classic Literature: The Human Condition

Hopefully, we’ve all had at least one moment when we’ve meet someone and thought, “I can’t believe how much we have in common!” These moments can inspire feeling seen, validated, affirmed. They can make us feel less alone, more connected. Here is at least one person out of the billions on this planet who *gets* what we’re about.

What can be just as remarkable is when we feel connected despite seemingly having little in common, at least on the surface. Continue reading “Modern Wisdom from Classic Books: The Human Condition”

Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature: Book Reviews

When do you seek out other readers’ responses through book reviews? Does it depend on the genre of book?

When do you seek out other readers’ responses through book reviews? Does it depend on the genre of book? What is the function of book reviews?

Is it to “save” people from a “bad” art experience? Can bad art exist? If it’s art, isn’t it, by definition, beautiful? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be failed art or attempted art or, you know, just … not art?

Recently, I read a time travel novel for middle grade readers, Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague. I bought the book without knowing anything about it other than the jacket copy’s description because time travel novels are one of my favorites. (Perhaps this explains why I ended up with two copies … oops.*) When the story opens, 13-year-old Margaret’s father has been found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to death. Desperate to save him, Margaret draws on her ability to time travel. Her quest takes her back to 1938, the year a tragedy soured the life of Lucas, who grows up to become the judge who sentenced Margaret’s father.  The story took a turn I won’t reveal (spoilers) other than to say it moved me to reflect on the power of living in the present moment. It’s a message I need to be reminded of often as I have a bad habit of obsessing over the past.

I rarely read extended reviews before reading a book. A friend’s recommendation, or the appeal of a book’s themes or jacket copy, is enough to inspire me to dive in. Extended reviews are for later, during or after reading a book I have a strong reaction to – whether it’s being moved, impressed, angry, surprised, provoked, etc.

When I read reviews, I’m not looking for a breakdown of what did and didn’t work according to one person, even one very smart or respected person. I can decide that for myself. Nitpicking about perceived flaws doesn’t interest me either, unless they’re so egregious as to disrupt my ability to engage in a story’s world. (If that’s the case, though, my reading experience probably isn’t interesting enough to inspire me to look up other readers’ responses.) I don’t expect a book to be perfect. That would be weird. I mean, what’s perfect on this planet?

I read reviews to connect with others’ experiences. Did others see and feel moved by this too? Did they see something I missed that will deepen my experience of a story? Continue reading “Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature: Book Reviews”

Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature, Part 1

Classic literature, like fantasy, separates us from the familiar trappings and references around which we construct our arguments and defenses.

Classic literature, like fantasy, separates us from the familiar trappings and references around which we construct our arguments and defenses.Years ago, when I was trying to shape my dissertation study, I had the “brilliant” idea to study how reading changes us. I’d been a reader for as long as I could remember. I recognized that the books I’d read throughout my life, in school and out, have shaped the way I think and act in the world. I wanted to understand how that happens, how it works.

My dissertation chair never came right out and said, “That’s a dreadful dissertation topic.” An exceedingly gentle and wise man, the kind of man about whom people are likely to say, “they don’t make them like him anymore,” he wanted to see me finish my dissertation sometime before the universe’s inevitable flame-out. He asked me questions. He showed me what such a study might entail. He invoked the vaguely Orwellian sounding Human Subjects Committee.

Somehow, by the end of our extended pre-proposal discussions, he delicately helped me construct an infinitely more manageable – and quantifiable – study: I looked at how writing handbooks advise student writers to incorporate texts alongside how “exemplary” student writers actually incorporate them. I worked with published texts and numbers. I enjoyed researching and writing my dissertation immensely … even if it was the kind of study that exactly seven people on Earth are likely to read (because they had to): The three members of my dissertation committee, my two outside readers (who probably skimmed it), my writing partner, and me.

Conducting my study helped me think about the ways we bring other writers into our work at the language level. It was fascinating and instructive. I’m grateful for the years I spent working on it. Still, my larger question has lingered. Earlier this year, I articulated some of the related questions circling around that larger one: Continue reading “Modern Wisdom from Classic Literature, Part 1”

The unabridged list of books I read in April

Another eclectic collection of books I added to my "read" pile in April

April readAm I really already talking about the books I read in April? Yes, the same incredulity that possessed me at the beginning of last month. This year is flying by at the speed of sound (or is it light?).

This month saw my highest “read” tally all year, thanks in large part to Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon. My titles included the usual mix of middle-grade and adult fiction and memoir. I also read a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a few months (or years…whatever) and finished a book that has been languishing on my “currently reading” list for a few weeks.

Books I read:

Reading Challenge-wise, I’m not doing too badly: 60 percent of the books I read this month were books I already owned. Although … When I look at it that way, I’m barely passing. I will have to keep working on this!

* Indicates a #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks title Continue reading “The unabridged list of books I read in April”

5 new books to look for in March

New Books March 2016

I know, I know – Why am I looking at new books when I’m supposed to be focusing on my own damn books?

I’ll tell you why: Because I don’t want to let any serious gems slip by me. I mean, they will, inevitably. Think of how many books are published every week! But I have this thing called a wish list, and every item on it is books plus acres of free time to read said books.

So while I’m no longer endlessly scouring every conceivable book list, I’m still taking a little time each month to review new books. Here are five that will join my wish list this month. Continue reading “5 new books to look for in March”

Why are people lying about the books they’ve read?

Classic novels

Years ago at a party, one of my cousins introduced me to a schoolmate of his with the description, “She’s studying English Literature.”

“Really?” the friend asked (slyly, I thought). “Have you heard of the book Gobbledy Gook“?

I told him (haughtily, I hoped) that no, in fact, I’d never heard of Gobbledy Gook. That’s when he laid some truth on me: the book didn’t exist. He’d made up the title, apparently to test whether I was legit. At the time, I thought it was kind of a douche move, but maybe he had a point.

Lying about books is apparently a thing. Continue reading “Why are people lying about the books they’ve read?”