Reading FAIL

Oh, what has become of my good intentions? This is shameful, truly shameful. The last two months have been an utter reading fail, and I can’t say April was much better. But for the sake of symmetry, here is rundown of February and March:

FEBRUARY
What I meant to read:
The Man Who Listens to Horses – Monty Roberts
The Color of Magic – Terry Pratchett
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
This Is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (audio)
The Gods of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs (audio)

What I actually read:
…..crickets….

MARCH
What I meant to read:
The Man Who Listens to Horses – Monty Roberts
The Color of Magic – Terry Pratchett
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country – Ken Kalfus
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (audio)

What I actually read:
The Man Who Listens to Horses – Monty Roberts
The Color of Magic – Terry Pratchett

 

Yes, I read zero books during the entire month of February. Zero. How is this possible? In fairness to myself, I was preparing to move, and baseball was about to begin. But these are not great excuses. Most likely I was just not being productive with my free time.

In March, I gave up on anything but catching up with my book club selections (which I didn’t) and finally finishing the infernal Little Women (which I haven’t).

I’m not sure how much I have to say about the two books I did read. Terry Pratchett is no doubt hilarious, in an absurd way that was somewhat reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (although I like Hitchhiker better – possibly because I prefer sci-fi to fantasy, or possibly because it just is better). I may read more of the Discworld series, but probably only if I can get them on audio. I would like to know what Ricewind’s spell does, and the book ended with a mighty cliffhanger…. or rather a cliff-jump.

But I am starting to think that no sci-fi/fantasy series will ever equal what the Dune books were to me. Ringworld, Discworld, John Carter – none of it is quite the same. (And yes, I recognize all the inherent flaws of the Dune books, but I love them no less.)

The Man Who Listens to Horses was for Skype Book Club. It was nonfiction. I was slightly interesting and slightly boring at the same time. But it did offer me this paragraph, which I think is great, and for which I am glad I read it:

“We stood there, the pair of us, married for 40 years and with grown-up children that hadn’t gone in a straight line at all, and we felt good having achieved our maturity, and we were proud of our memories.”

The end of April is approaching. If I finish The Marriage Plot by next Tuesday (which I can, easy) I will at last be caught up with the book club books. May is coming. It will be a month of reading glory. I swear it.

January In Review

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What I meant to read:
This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
The Hobbit –JRR Tolkien
20000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne (audio)
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (audio)

What I actually read:
This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling
A Room with a View –
 EM Forster
20000 Leagues Under the Sea –Jules Verne (audio)
The Adventures of Sally – PG Wodehouse (audio)


Compulsive book buying is a problem for me, a problem exacerbated by the combined power of living near a first-rate used book store and having high speed internet. Let me tell you, books-you-must-read lists are everywhere on the internet. You can find them and read them endlessly, and if you’re me, you come away with at least five books you need to read right this second. And then you go find those books at your local used-book store and buy them. And then you read another books-you-must-read list, discover five more books you need to read right this second, and lose your enthusiasm for the first batch.

So I wanted to read This Is Where I Leave You before I lost my enthusiasm for it. I bought this book after reading in more than one place that Jonathan Tropper is Nick-Hornby-esque. And my conclusion is: maybe. It was like a Nick Hornby book, with way more erections. It’s not exactly that I object, but the family dynamics were what was interesting, more so than the erections, so I don’t know why there had to be so many of them. On a whole, I liked it. But Jonathan Tropper is nowhere near in the running to become my favorite living person, which makes him…. not Nick-Hornby-esque.

Jennifer Egan was forced upon me by the Sibling Book Club, and I admired it more than loved it, but there was a section written in power-point form that made me cry. A book always gets bonus points for making me cry. And you’ve already heard about Jules Verne, so that takes care of the books I meant to read.

As for my hijacks this month: I’m going to just come out and admit it—I love romantic novels, although I pretty much exclusively like them in the form of period pieces. Jane Eyre, North and South, The Scarlett Pimpernel, any Austen – I eat that stuff up. And I especially love a romantic period piece when I’m doing twelve hours of driving in a day, which made The Adventures of Sally exactly what I wanted to read at the moment I read it.

I would say that “humorous autobiographical ramble” is not a subgenre of book I often partake in, but I’m glad I did, and I would like to be Mindy Kaling’s friend. Maybe she could be on the reality show with me and Jules Verne.

As for A Room with a View, I think this was my sixth read. But I read it on my Kindle so it was in one way a brand new experience. There are still parts of this book that blow my mind. Like, I forget how much I love it during the year-and-a-half-or-so that lapses between readings, so it hits me at full-force all over again. Anyway, it’s never a bad idea to dedicate part of January to reading your favorite book ever written.

I’m making a distinction here between “favorite” and “best” – I would never try to argue that A Room with a View is the Best Book Ever Written. Surely, there is no Best Book Ever Written. That’s like saying there’s a best ice cream flavor. The Best Book Ever Written is whatever book speaks the most to you. If that happens to be Twilight, so be it. But for me, it’s A Room with a View

“Well, thank you so much,” she repeated. “How quickly these accident do happen, and then one returns to the old life!”

 

“I don’t.”

 

Anxiety moved her to question him.

 

His answer was puzzling: “I shall probably want to live.”

 

“But why, Mr. Emerson? What do you mean?”

 

“I shall want to live, I say.”

 

Leaning her elbows on the parapet, she contemplated the River Arno, whose roar was suggesting some unexpected melody to her ears.

 

-EM Forster

Jules Verne

My first encounter with Jules Verne happened in 2009, which, if you take into consideration the fact that Nick Hornby and I met in high school, is a relationship still in its honeymoon stage. It was Journey to the Center of the Earth. I listened to it on my iPod while vacuuming floors and dusting chalkboards in Bell Hall, in order to pay the rent on my grad school apartment.

I was reading it out of duty. I got into sci-fi books through the backdoor of sci-fi television, which I got into through the backdoor of Lost. So it seemed about time I pay my respects to the father of science fiction. (I might just be pulling that out of the air, but I bet if you google “Jules Verne” and “father of science fiction” something will come up.) Still, I didn’t expect to like it.

And then I loved it.

The thing I love about Jules Verne is that he’s serious about his science fiction without being self-serious. In fact, he’s quite funny. He has a great, dry sense of humor, which he injects into his books by creating these fantastically farcical characters. I remember finishing Journey and thinking, Man, I wish Jules Verne and I could hang out! This feeling continued through Around the World in 80 Days (the International Date Line plot twist – you know it’s coming and yet that somehow takes nothing away from the joy of it). I almost named my last fish Phileas Fogg.

Well Jules Verne, you lost me with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The only thing worse that not liking a book is not liking a book you’re expecting to like. It always gives me that popped-balloon feeling, and I usually have to read some EM Forster to remember that, yes, I actually do like books.

Here are my problems with 20,000 Leagues:

(1)   If you cut out the parts of this books that were, seriously, just cataloging species of fish it would only be half as long as it is. I’m sorry, but don’t want to read endless lists of fish. I would go as far to say that nobody does.

(2)   Anything actually interesting going on here is left unanswered. Jules Verne creates some intrigue, no doubt. But instead of answering any of the questions I had (who is Captain Nemo? what is his problem? what happened to the woman in the picture? why does he hate humanity?) he left me with a giant cliffhanger and answered NONE OF THEM. That is just…. mean.

So 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea…. no. Jules Verne… yes. I still want to hang out with him. I wish we could have a reality TV show where we reenacted the plots of his books together. Me and Jules Verne…. from the Earth to the Moon!

Another reason someone needs to invent time travel.

Rules v. Guidelines, and why 50 books a year is never going to happen

It happens every January. I open my running Excel sheet of Books Read to add the first of the year, and think to myself: This will be the year I read 50 books.

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I love books – I love reading them, talking about them, buying more shelves to fit them on. I love trying to win people over to my favorite authors and having two-hour arguments about Angel Claire. But you know what else I love? Baseball. Going out with my friends. Watching sci-fi television shows. And I think it’s time to come to terms with the fact that 50 books a year is never going to happen for me, unless I have some massive personality shift. And baseball goes on strike. Simultaneously.

No, I don’t see that happening.

So instead of setting myself up for failure, I’m setting my reading resolutions this year in terms of books I want to have read by the end it. As long as these books are finished by the end of 2013, I will consider my reading year a success. Even if they are the only books I read:

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Swamplandia – Karen Russel
Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart
A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of EM Forster – Wendy Moffat
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy

(Hardy on audio – since discovering that there is an audio version featuring narration by Alan Rickman, I refuse to experience this book any other way).

That may not seem like a lot, but that’s taking into account the fact I’m involved in two “book clubs” which jack up my reading schedule considerably. And I may be setting myself up for failure by putting the Forster bio on there. Still, I’m doing it.

I’ve also decided to take stock of my reading on a monthly basis this year, in part to keep better track of it, and in part because I am always trying to find ways to be more like Nick Hornby. Thus, reading goals will be set on a monthly basis as well, also in terms of books I want to finish. I think that’s better than being like, okay, four books a month. I mean, that’s not realistic if one of those books is Our Mutual Friend (hello August book club selection) unless another one of those books is Pat the Bunny.

Month goals are more like guidelines than rules, and are sure to get hijacked by my scatter-brained book selection process (Although there surely must be fewer new book releases this year to hijack me. Last year was insanity – Peter Carey, Mark Haddon, Dennis Lehane, Jonathan Green, Justin Cronin. The only thing I can think of coming out this year which I’ll probably need to read right this second is E Lockhart. Unless my fruitless googling of Nick Hornby suddenly yields thrilling results).

So there you have it. Welcome to a year in the reading life of Kayla. It promises to be a nerd-tastic journey.

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