Friday, August 11, 2006

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, by Sara Nelson

The other day I decided to stop and have lunch at Borders bookstore and then to go about the store writing down titles of books I am interested in reading. I wandered the entire store and ended up writing down about 10 titles. One area of the bookstore that piqued my interest was the Book Review/Critique section. I found two books related to a "year long reading plan." I was amused mostly. One such title was this book, So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading.

This book is written by Sara Nelson who is, among other things, a publishing columnist for The New York Observer and has been a contributor to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Those are her better qualifications as a book critic. I think very little of the fact that she is now a senior contributing editor at Glamour magazine. Nevertheless, curiosity was raised. I was mostly curious by the thought of a non-reader (or a seldom-do-I-ever-pick-up-a-book reader) taking time out for this one. A year of passionate reading? What is this? Something to be inspired by? Amused by? I went with amused, given the Bookfest 2006 project. Quite simply, I HAD to read this book to understand what all the fuss was about. Why write a book about a year's experience with books? I wasn't about to buy a copy of the book so I found a copy at our local library.

As I began this book my thought was, "I could have written this book!" She seemed to have my personality and writing style. She made me laugh. She said things I understood. For example, when she began reading a book she didn't like, she just stopped reading. She says:

"So I did something I have only in my maturity learned how to do: I stopped reading. . . . Allowing yourself to stop reading a book - at page 25, 50, or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end -- is a rite of passage in a reader's life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself an announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions."
(page 55)

Nelson also has particular opinions in regards to "double-booking" one's self. For example, some books deserve your undivided attention. You cannot possibly think of interrupting their story for another. Time is simply not meant to be divided up between certain characters and thoughts. Yet other times double-booking is hardly a problem at all. You feel no sense of loyalty, devotion or even a smidgen of a desire to devote all your emotions, thoughts and energies to one book and one book alone. The relationship between books vary. She recognizes this and I loved that.

I also identified with her aversion to National Bestsellers and Hot Ticket books. She says in discussing one particularly "hyped" book:

"The idea, I guess, is to turn a book into a media event, but this is a strategy that has major backfire potential. For me - as, I believe, for a lot of readers - when a book gets overhyped, we get mad. We're a funny, cliquish group, we book people, and sometimes we resist liking - or even resist opening - the very thing everybody tells us we're supposed to like."
(p. 61)

Can anyone say The Da Vinci Code? I've had my library copy for three weeks already and I cannot get up the desire to crack the book open. It's seen too much and been too much for me to care anymore. Maybe someday I will. Not today.

I was all set to recommend So Many Books to every reader I personally know. You know the drill - buy copies for people to convince them that it really IS a great book! And maybe, just maybe, the fact that I gave it to them will inspire them to read it just for laughs. After all, that's what I was getting out of it.

Then I hit the midsection of the book wherein she stopped talking about her book fetishes and began talking about the books she had decided to read over the course of her Passionate Reading Year. The book quickly took a dive and I began to identify less and less with her as her political/religious believes began to surface. Let's just say, our personalities really aren't that similar, although our humor might be.

Nelson is a fan of the modern novel in a way I can never be. Mostly because I find most modern novels to be a bunch of rubbish. Occasionally there's a jewel sparkling in the dump heap, but they are rather rare. Nelson doesn't mind exploring. She mentioned a few books that I could feel an interest rising for. Then she gave away the end of the story and I wasn't interested anymore. Mostly because the plots and endings were dark, depressing and generally not worth reading about anyway! She is fond of lots of political movements (and likes to read about them) that I will never support and/or agree with. I'll leave it at that.

Occasionally she'd mention a book I had read and it was interesting to hear her opinion. For example, she mentioned that she had read Housekeeping and mentioned it as a benchmark for the feminist movement. (?) She mentioned Charlotte's Web. (She didn't really care for it.) She mentioned Peace Like a River which I picked up at the library along with her book. Thankfully she didn't give away the ending. I can find out for myself. I figured that since she didn't talk about the end, nor did she rhapsodize about it, it has the potential of being liked by myself.

The other thing that I found rather disconcerting about her Year of Passionate Reading was the fact that her family life really did suffer as a result. However, I don't believe its suffering anymore than it ever has. She has a son but he's outranked by books. At least, in the way she describes it (although my guess is that she'd deny it otherwise). I love books and I love reading. However, when Jonathan comes home the book receives its bookmark (well, most of the time) and I'm done for awhile. I anticipate having less and less time to read as the years go by. However, I cannot imagine the pleasure of a good book decreasing!

On the whole, if you can take some talk about some bum books, Nelson really is amusing. Don't go into this book anticipating enjoying the same type of works. However, if you suffer from any number of book fetishes, you'll probably get a chuckle or two out of the first half of the book. And you can always close the book and walk away from it forever if you hate it about mid-way through. After all, that's your prerogative!


Sky said...

I've seen this book at Barnes and Noble, or somewhere with piles and shelves of books anyway, and I did grin to myself. Now I'll have to read it!

B said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Carrie. It sounds interesting, although I think I'd get irritated about her book choices as well. (Not to mention the fact that she gives the ending away on some books.) Otherwise, it sounds like a fun read, and I might give it a try.

Ani said...

I'm so glad you have discovered Peace Like a River. I really liked it, but couldn't classify it.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Oh, thank goodness. I thought I was the only one to be irritated by this book. Too many mentions of modern novels and I also thought that her attitude to home was irksome.
It isn't just me, then :) There are far better books about books, one of them being, in my opinion, 'Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader' by Anne Fadiman. Quirky, bookish and definitely a fine family feel there.

Great blog, only just found it so the comment is a bit late!


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