Friday, April 18, 2008

Random Notes: Catch-Up Reading

I'm always doing catch-up reading – reading last week's book reviews or last month's issues of the various magazines I try to keep up with. The same way I'm always shopping for swimsuits when the stores are putting out their parkas and earmuffs – but that's another sad story entirely.

Joe Queenan had a very funny essay ("There Will Be a Quiz") in the April 6th "New York Times Book Review," about trying to write the kind of "Questions for Discussion" that are sometimes included in the backs of books these days. He eventually finds that it's not as easy or straightforward as it seems:

. . . it became clear to me that seemingly off-the-wall questions were a staple of the genre, deliberately included to shake up the musty old world of literature and force readers to think "outside the box."

Realizing this, he figures he might as well come up with some "off-the-wall" material of his own to try to tempt the publishers. Something like the following, for an edition of Homer's Odyssey:

In describing a woman who can effortlessly turn a man into a pig, is Homer criticizing men in general? Or only sailors? Do you personally know any women like that? Are any of them named Brandi? What time does her shift end?


Michael Dirda had an interesting review of Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night, in a recent issue (also April 6th) of the Washington Post's "Book World." Dirda starts off by discussing book collectors and their habits, and this quote made a real impression. I can definitely sympathize:

The newly acquired treasure is soon slipped onto a bookshelf or even, as the bookcases fill up, into a cardboard box stored in the basement or the attic or the American Self Storage in Kensington, Md. And once in a box, the book can never, ever be found when it's needed. Trust me. I know.

But Manguel seems to lead a perfect life, for a book person anyway:

. . . this superb all-around literary essayist, can actually find any one of his 30,000 books. As he tells us in The Library at Night, they lie readily at hand on dark wood shelves, in a building constructed on the ruins of a former 15th-century barn, adjoining a one-time presbytery, on a hill south of the Loire. That's in France. Not too far from Paris. A long way from American Self-Storage in Kensington, Md.

I love Dirda's reviews – they're smart and entertaining and witty, and actually tell you something about the book in question.

And what a wonderful job he has! As he says of Manguel:

Most of all, . . . he loves to read and read and read, and then to write about his reading and quote from it.

Well, we all love to do that, but these guys get paid for it.


And in the blogosphere, Ravenous Reader had a great post about notebooks the other day ("Notebookism," April 16). I think most book people are probably notebook enthusiasts, too. I know they're one of my obsessions. Well, for one thing, you need a lot of notebooks if you make a lot of lists, and I'm certainly guilty of that.

I tend to gravitate toward the lower end of the notebook spectrum – I'm more likely to pick up a couple of Staples spiral-bound books than a pricier Moleskine. I love them all, but the more expensive the notebook, the more intimidated I'd be about scribbling in it. Once you introduce acid-free paper and fancy covers into the equation, the notebook ceases to be a notebook and becomes a journal, with its own set of rules and pleasures.

1 comment:

  1. I've often wondered who writes those questions they've started putting in the backs of books. I have a friend who is an English teacher, and she refuses to buy books that have "built in" discussion questions. "I can think of my own questions, thank you," is her comment.

    Thanks for the link...and I totally agree. Truth be told, the only notebooks I usually write in are the cheapo ones from the drugstore! The others just sit around and look tempting.


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