Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reading again

I have been trying to be more dedicated about reading. I used to be an avid reader. It makes me sad to say “ I used to be”. I was so excited to read when I was four and couldn’t wait for kindergarten. All through my childhood I devoured books. As a teenager, I would stay up all night because I couldn’t put a book down. I could finish monumental books, of a thousand pages, like Gone with the Wind, in a matter of days (I also read a lot of Jude Devoreaux... teehee). In college, during winter breaks, I would average about a book a day (loved Herman Hesse, Kafka, and Dostoyeksky).

My life is fuller now and I have to delicately balance much more: there are other obligations to be met, relationships to be nurtured, and even other interests (running, cooking) that have to weigh in. Graduate school also took a toll on my lust for reading. After reading so much for classes, the last thing I wanted to do in my free time was pick up a book. And there was so much guilt if I picked up a book for pleasure, because graduate reading is never really finished, there is always more to read, more to learn.

Yet, recently, I have found myself yearning for good books, wanting to lose myself in someone else’s story, desiring to learn about something fascinating, longing for that sense of awe when wandering around a bookstore and thirsting for that sense of urgency to finish other bothersome obligations so I can get back to a book. So, I have started reading… again… in earnest.

The hardest part, after such a prolonged absence, is choosing a book. There is something about not having endless hours to read that makes me want to choose something worthwhile, something well-written, a kind of quality that resonates in your heart and resounds in your mind for years when you think of the book, something I will not gladly give up after 50 pages (like the Diary of Anais Nin… why, oh why can I not get into that book, when I so want to?) Yet, I also want a good story, something to lose myself in for a few hours when the house is dark and quiet, something that will be difficult to put down…

Clearly, I am not that much of a book snob… I did read this series over Thanksgiving weekend. But after years studying literature academically, I do have some elitist notions about “good literature”, so choosing books is sometimes difficult for me. I have been out of the reading loop, the real avid reading loop, for so long that it has been a struggle to put together a reading list of books that I want to read. This is further complicated by reading reviews of books online. I am on Goodreads, which has been both a bane and a benefit as far as choosing books. It has given me tons of ideas. But then I read the reviews of perfectly random strangers and I get cold feet. Negative reviews can be wrong though.

In the past few weeks I have read:

Life of Pi… and despite all of my literary training, I took the story at face value, a boy and a tiger in a life-raft. I liked it that way, no need for allegories of any kind.

Julie and Julia… and I was not irked that it was less about food and more about her personal crisis at 30.

The Heretic’s Daughter… brilliant, fascinating and it did not bother me one bit that it was written from the point of view of a young girl; there was nothing missing from the story.

Now I am reading Comfort Me with Apples (interested in food memoirs right now for some reason, but Reichl’s first memoir was not in at the library) and Middlesex.

I am sometimes skittish about giving book recommendations… I mean, if you ask me about a specific book that I have read and have memory of reading, I will tell you if I liked it or not… but if you ask: “what should I read?” I’ll say Brothers Karamazov or Anna Karenina or something and you’ll look at me crazy and never ask me again. But I always notice book recommendations of others and look them up, write them down. I have siphoned titles from other blogs I read that have mentioned books or asked for recommendations. I have even asked several blogging friends about what good books they have read recently and I am putting together a bit of a list.

So, recommendations? what do you got for me? I need a long list, because between the library and the used bookstore, it is luck of the draw.

I’ll even be brave and give you one: The God of Small Things (Roy, A.) –poignant story, beautifully written—even the title is heart-stopping.


Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Since you are the type to plow through a book in one day, I won't feel bad if these aren't your elitist cup of tea : )

A few of my favorites: Divisadero & Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Annje said...

@Denise: I already have you pegged as a reader of good books, so I'll trust anything you say ;-) I have seen the name Ondaatje around a bit, but have never read anything.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Ondaatje wrote the book The English Patient that inspired the film The English Patient. That's how most people know of him. Another great book.

Bex said...

Oh my oh my oh my...nothing in the world like a good book. My recommendations: The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chabon (my all-time, wish I had written this, perfect novel), The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (the most memorable and realistic characters ever), A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (So wonderful and rich), I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb (I cried. So good.) They're all big, meaty, suck you in books. Enjoy!

Isabel said...

I second A prayer for Owen Meany. It's one of my favorite books.

I also recommend Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, but it's not a "fun read". It IS extremely well researched and reported and something I wish everyone would read.

I have a feeling you've already read it, but The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferré is another favorite.

I'm reading Middlesex right now. It's wonderful so far.

Annje said...

Thanks Bex and Isabel. I have read Owen Meany (read a bunch of Irving one summer like 15 years ago... gulp), but none of the others you mentioned. I have read some Ferre, but not that one I think.

Anonymous said...

oooh ooh, I don't have much in the way of fiction recommendations, especially now that I'm studying for comprehensive exams. If you get an itch for non-fiction, however, I'm reading "On Food and Cooking" and it's pretty interesting. Please post reviews of the books you read... even if it is subjective, I'll appreciate some guidance when I get back to fiction.

mosey said...

I concur with Michael Ondaatje (Canadian). Loved Owen Meany. Can I offer some of my other favourite Canadian authors, which might not necessarily be in the mainstream?

Margaret Laurence. Love love LOVE her writing, which is always tinged with melancholy - probably why I was drawn to it. My favourite book is one of hers - "The Diviners". Haven't read it in years simply because I don't want my memory of it spoiled. And Robertson Davies might suit your big word tendencies - I read "Murther and Walking Spirits" with my dictionary close at hand.

Abby said...

I was such a reader when I was little. I used to hide in my closet with a good book so no one would bother me. During the summer we had to read something like 10 books to get a free pizza party or something and I read something like 100 books per summer. It was ridiculous.

I love Wally Lamb. My all time favorite book is She's Come Undone. Also, I recently re-read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which I really enjoyed.

Happy Reading!!

Maggie May said...

I wish I could get paid for recommending books! I lurve it.

The Big House by George Colt is a life-time keeper for me, the kind of book I'd like to read in the hospital or if I can't sleep, it's so comforting, interesting and lovely.

Savage Beauty by i forget, about Edna St Vincent Millay- a book I'd stay up late cuz I hated to put it down, soooo good.

The Children's Hospital by i forget ( not going to get paid much am i :)
not 'great literature' but another book i couldn't put down, and certainly very very well written.

The Human Stain by Philip Roth- one of my favorite authors.

Run, Rabbit by John Updike, one of my favorite authors. this series ( there are three ) blows me away with the sheer brilliance and velocity of the writing.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, another favorite author and one of my favorite books ever.

We Were The Mulvaney's by Joyce Carol Oates- one of my favorite authors and maybe my favorite of her works that I've read.


mrs.notouching said...

This is so timely, since I've been reading nothing but baby books for the past two years and was just complaining to my friend that I really NEED at least one good non-baby book before this baby comes. Loved reading your comments and the last great book that I've read was Middlesex (hope you like it too). The one before that was Audrey Niffenegger "Time Travelers Wife" - loved the book, hated the movie. And of course I had to read "Her Perfect Symmetry".

Phoenix said...

I haven't yet read The God of Small Things but it's on my list.

If you haven't already read them, I recommend Eat Pray Love and The Time Traveler's Wife. Also Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - that's on my list as well :)

anymommy said...

Oh! Book recommendations! One of my favorite things ever.

I loved The God of Small Things. And Owen Meany. And Middlesex.

I'm writing down my own list now. I haven't read most of Maggie's list.

Okay. This year I read The Book Thief and loved it. A favorite I read over and over - Jitterbug Perfume. A book that really challenged me this year - Let the Great World Spin.

Margaret said...

Oh I am so envious! I too had a childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood full of novels... And in my university years, when I was raising a child alone and working full time to boot, I would choose one novel per semester and keep it by my bedside, and the second I turned in that last paper, I would hop into bed and start that book.
Today I spend most of my time reading, editing, and/or translating other people's work and writing my own, which leaves so little time to drift off into some delicious world of fiction (sigh)
These days I seem to read far more books that I can hopscotch around in (stories, articles, independent chapters) because I seldom have the opportunity for the continuity required to really enjoy a novel.
Food books are great (love Ruth Reichl & Harold McGee, both mentioned), also photography books, travel books--Trading in Memories by Barbara Hodgson is on my nightstand now (check out her quirkily beautiful books that are more about the journey than they place)...
And Annje- just think--once you get here, you'll have a whole new world of Chilean lit to catch up on!

eeuu- my verifcation word came up "macelice"!! ick!