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03 September 2005 — Bookworm (8)

For the past five years I've read at a constant pace: I consume about one book a week, or fifty books a year. I'd like to improve on that. Before 1998 I read twice as much. It's my goal to return to the one-hundred book per year level, but it's going to require a concentrated effort.

I plan to reduce the amount of time I waste on the internet. I check my e-mail several times an hour. I check my favorite web sites multiple times each day. I surf aimlessly for hours at a time. This is insane. I don't intend to forego the internet completely, but I do plan to become its master rather than let it master me.

To begin my reading reformation, I want to read voraciously for a week or two, to re-establish the habits of a constant reader. My posts here may become sporadic. Or they may increase as I share what I'm reading. I don't know. It's almost certain that this weblog will become rather book-centric for a while.

This month, I've already finished The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (heartbreaking, beautiful) and Freakonomics (interesting but shallow). I'm currently auditing Chaim Potok's The Chosen, and will have it finished by midweek. I'm starting on Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point as soon as I post this entry, and hope to have read the entire thing by tomorrow. I have Gladwell's Blink in the queue, too.

And, of course, I want to reenter the world of Proust.

I have a stack of books to read. (Not including the 41 books I currently have borrowed from the library. Most of the library books are cookbooks or photography books, meant more for browsing than linear consumption.) I won't get to all of the books in my stack, of course, but I hope to get to most. I'm looking for more recommendations that I can add to my list: fiction, nonfiction, I don't care.

This reading plan means that I'll be able to reintroduce some science fiction and fantasy into my book diet. When I read less, I tend to forego speculative fiction because, as I've mentioned before, I feel its quality generally doesn't measure up. This means that I'll finally get to the rest of the speculative fiction books that Jim has sent me over the past year. Exciting!

I knew that I wanted to read The Tipping Point next — before beginning Blink — but I was having trouble finding a copy. Powell's has many, but I'm cranky at Powell's lately. This was only exacerbated when I saw that all of their used copies were in a warehouse, inaccessible to me if I wanted a copy today. Typical. I checked the Clackamas County Library system, and while there were fourteen copies in circulation, there were nineteen holds on them. Since I was in the mood for a field trip, anyhow, I treated myself to cheap tacos at Cha! Cha! Cha! and then stopped by Wallace Books in Sellwood.

Wallace Books is a smallish used book store, taking up the entire first floor of a house. (Does the proprietor live upstairs? I don't know. It's possible.) Their selection is varied (and they have a great kids section), thought it's not as broad as you might find in a larger book store. Though the books are sometimes organized, they're just as often stacked in heaps. The fellow who's often there (who is apparently not the owner) is quite helpful. He took the time to have a conversation with me about The Tipping Point (and Freakonomics, which he hasn't read). Based on the conversation, he was able to recommend other, similar books. You won't find deep discounts at Wallace Books, but who cares? If you shop there, you're helping a local book store stay in business. If you live in Oak Grove, Milwaukie, Sellwood, or Woodstock, give the shop a try.

On this day at foldedspace.org

2004Curving Like a Trout   The first two paragraphs of Crossing to Safety provide a fine example of what is right with this book.

2003Shrink Not With Afright   In which I listen to Christmas carols in midsummer.

On 03 September 2005 (03:53 PM), Lisa said:

Huh. I was just going to suggest a book, but I think now I'll use it as my next bookclub pick. So, I'm not telling.

You can call Powell's and have them transfer books from the warehouses (most but not all of them) to a store for you to look at. It takes a while and is generally a pain, but it's an option.

On 03 September 2005 (09:30 PM), Betsy said:

I'm on a major reading kick lately (even dusted off the library card and have tons of books in the queue/on the waiting list.)

It's actually my best remedy for the chronic insomnia I'm dealing with lately (purely stress-related, mostly situational stress that should ease in time, one hopes) - I can get to sleep but I can't stay asleep. And when I wake at 1:30 (or 2:30...or again at 4:30, ugh), reading's the best way to either soothe my brain or send me back to sleep for a short bit.

I read...doze...wake up & read a bit more...doze a bit more.

I'm doing a major re-read of my favorite children's book series of all time - the Anne books (Anne of Green Gables, etc.) Both Blink and The Tipping Point are on order, as is that organization And I've got an interesting book about Portland that's nevertheless not interesting enough to move it to the top of the 'insomnia reading' queue yet.

On 04 September 2005 (10:06 AM), John said:

"The Chosen" is a great book. If you like it, you should also read "The Promise".

On 04 September 2005 (06:39 PM), Courtney said:

I'm glad we go to different county libraries... :)

Thanks for the reminder about Wallace Books. It's a 20 minute walk from here, yet I haven't been there in years.

On 05 September 2005 (09:37 AM), Lane said:

OOPS! Last weekend I bought the only used copies of Tipping Point and Blink that Powell's had at the Burnside store.

On 06 September 2005 (04:19 PM), Nikchick said:

Do you remember what you read? I don't read nearly as much as you do, and even do, so much of what I read disappears from my head it's as if I never read it at all. I read Tipping Point a few years ago, but only have a vague memory of the specifics of the book. I've read several novels through the book club I belong to, but couldn't tell you much about them aside from general themes or impressions. I often can't remember character names or specific events. I'd already forgotten that I read Dragonflight for the book club, except that the book is here on my desk to remind me...

On 06 September 2005 (05:02 PM), J.D. said:

Nicole: Do you remember what you read? I don't read nearly as much as you do, and even do, so much of what I read disappears from my head it's as if I never read it at all.

This is a difficult question to answer.

I almost certainly never remember the details about what I read. Names and places and facts and figures are lost on me, forgotten almost as soon as the book is finished, if not before. There are exceptions, of course — it's easy for me to remember names and places in my favorite books, and I tend to be better able to remember names in classics, probably because they show up elsewhere in literature — but for the most part, I'm at a loss when it comes to remembering details.

However, I am good at remembering broad brush strokes. I can remember plots. I can remember meanings. I can remember feelings. If a book is well-written, I can remember long chains of scenes. For example, I could recount a plot summary for As I Lay Dying with little trouble and high accuracy, though the only time I ever read the book was six years ago.

On the other hand, certain books are entirely forgettable. For example, the class of books I call "Oprah Books" often fade from my mind within days. (As an aside: I'm not necessarily opposed to all books Oprah chooses, especially now that she's on her classics kick. However, there's a certain subclass of her choices that are prototypical Oprah books — The Poisonwood Bible, The Rapture of Canaan, She's Come Undone — that I just can't retain. Just the other day I was trying to remember what we'd read for book group two months ago. I couldn't recall. I had to look it up: Behind the Scenes at the Museum, a very Oprah-esque book. (It wasn't bad; it was just unmemorable.) Then yesterday I saw something about a new book from Kate Atkinson. Where had I heard that name? I looked it up. She's the author for Behind the Scenes at the Museum. The details of that book are beginning to fade, though certain parts of it will stick with me.

One benefit of not remembering books well is that I can always reread them and experience the same pleasure as the first time. It's great! (This happens with movies, too. Kris loves to tell how the second time I saw The Sixth Sense I was surprised all over again; I'd forgotten the plot twist.)

One final thought: I've been listening to audio books for about a year now. I find that my retention rate is much higher when I audit a book than when I read it. I'm able to recall much more detail when the book is read aloud to me. Why is that? I don't know. But it's a fact. I still might not know dates and names and places, but I know much more minute story elements than when I read for myself.

On 06 September 2005 (09:41 PM), Nikchick said:

Interesting answer on retention, especially that you remember audio books better. I've been dabbling with audio books over the last year or so and have had the same experience: I have a much clearer recollection of Across the Nightengale Floor (audio) than I do of the sequels (which I read) even though I read the sequels much more recently. The reader for The Secret Life of Bees was excellent and made all the difference in my enjoyment of that book.

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