Sunday, November 23, 2008

Seven weird reading facts about me

Since Joel tagged me.

Seven weird reading facts about me. I don't know how "weird" all of these are, some of you may do these also:

1. I always have more than one book going at a time. I like to trade off what I am reading on based on how I feel any given day. I always have a novel and a non-fiction book going at once, often I also have a mystery novel and a second non-fiction book as well.

2. When I am planning travel, even before I start thinking about clothing, I think about what books I am going to take to read while traveling. Because you have to be very careful about this: you do not want to take a total unknown quantity on vacation with you, and find you are stuck on a train or in an airport with a book you loathe and want to throw across the room. I usually take multiple books with me, usually 2 more than I actually realistically can finish.

3. I actually read kind of slowly. I'm not one of those people who can blow through a novel in a weekend. It can take me six months or more to read a thick novel, especially if the language is a bit archaic. I can tell I read much more slowly if I'm reading Dickens or Austen than if I'm reading some recent novel that's written in today's vernacular.

4. I have weak muscles around my eyes (I forget what the eye doctor said they were called) and I find if I get too close to a page of print, the words kind of "jump around" because the focus-muscles are twitchy. I've never had a problem with reading because of the weak muscles, though, I just have to be careful not to get the book too close to my nose. (Except I am pretty near-sighted, so I can't have the book too far away).

5. I wear eyeglasses to correct nearsightedness and astigmatism; I nearly always take them off if I'm reading something for any length of time. It seems more comfortable for my eyes to do it that way (and I secretly believe that maybe doing that will help stave off my needing bifocals for a few more years).

6. I can remember where a particular passage is in a book - if it's on a right or left hand side page, and roughly how far down the page it is. However, I'm terrible at actually REMEMBERING the passage so if I want to quote something, I have to go and look it up. I'm also often really bad at remembering author's names, so if there's a book in a series I like and I want to buy more by the same author, I have to write down the name and take it to the bookstore with me.

7. I rarely get rid of books, even if it's very unlikely I will read that particular one again. Even the cheap paperback mysteries. Even though I really DON'T re-read (except for a few beloved books/stories and, of course, the Bible), I still like to have all my books around me.

And I'm going to cheat and give a couple more:

8. I will use any flat object at hand as a book mark. I've used receipts, ticket stubs from the train, envelopes, even cancelled checks (not so smart if you take the book out of the house). I sometimes will dog-ear a page but only on books I paid less than $10 for.

9. I read cookbooks while I eat, sometimes. I like to read cookbooks, especially those that are "historical" in nature (like the Little House cookbook) or those that have a lot of "commentary" from the author.

I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you've not done this and would like to, consider yourself tagged.


And I'll also mention the two books I'm reading right now:

The Pickwick Papers (which yes, has a longer name, but this is what I know it as) by Dickens, of course. I love this book. It makes me chuckle. I would love to be sister to Mr. Pickwick or Mr. Snodgrass (or perhaps Mr. Snodgrass' sweetheart). There's such a humor to this book. I love rambling books like this - where there might be a whole chapter devoted to a story that one character tells, or where there are funny little side-plots.

This seems to me (though I could be wrong), the sunniest book Dickens wrote. I'm about half way and haven't seen any of the classic Dickens downtrodden folk or outrage at injustices yet.

And the story about the Sexton and the goblin reads like an early draft of "A Christmas Carol" in some ways.

I'm also reading a book called The Spartans by...hold on, have to go check (again: bad at remembering author's names)

It's by Paul Cartledge.

I started this a while back, put it aside when I got distracted by another book*, and just recently re-started it. Ancient Greece fascinates me because although it's supposed to be the model for our democracy, it is SO different. The culture is totally different - and there are a lot of differences between the different city-states.

I admit that I'm still weak on the different "ages" of Greece - Classical, Hellenic, etc.

I read a lot of history about ancient cultures because - I can't quite explain why - they interest me a lot. I suppose it's that distance, that wondering about "How did they think? How did they live?"

I can say from what I've read I'm fairly glad I don't live in Sparta or in a culture like it. Not as a female (even though they were apparently better treated than they were in Athens) and not as a male, either. It's this culture that is almost monofocal: training up an army to fight. Young men are sent away to military school. They spend their teen years training and their young adult years serving in the military. To not serve is a deep dishonor. Apparently they don't even marry until later on in life.

Still, it's fascinating to learn about, especially when I'm tucked up comfortably in my nice bed. There's something oddly appealing - perhaps a bit of schadenfreude involved - about reading about historical hardships others have faced when you're safe at home.

I had begun a biography of Alan Turing but put it aside because the author's intense focus on Turing's "gheyness" kind of put me off. Perhaps it really was that important to the man; perhaps it really did shape his life (and lead to his premature ending of his life). But I'm more curious about how the man came up with his theories than I am about all of the supposed buggery he was involved with in school. (Or perhaps I just need to blip over the first few chapters).

It's like the guy writing the book is salivating over all the "lascivious" stuff he can write about Turing. And while the fact that the man was gay, and was gay at a time when it was dangerous in Britain to be gay, it's like that information isn't presented in a matter of fact way, it's presented more like "hee hee hee, look what I know." And that bugs me.

I don't know. I get frustrated with books that are supposedly about the "great ideas" (which is how this one was marketed) and they turn out to seem to have been written to titillate. I mean, it's unfortunate that Turing was persecuted for his orientation...but that's really not what matters to me about the man; what I want to know is how he thought and what he did.

(*This is another odd reading habit of mine - I will "throw over" books I'm partway through if another book on a different topic grabs my interest. I almost always come back to the original book though.)

1 comment:

Stephen Jarvis said...

Hi - I know that you wrote this post some years ago, but you mentioned your love of the Pickwick Papers, and in particular its "rambling" quality, and I thought you might be interested in hearing about my own forthcoming novel, Death and Mr Pickwick, which tells the story of the origins and subsequent history of The Pickwick Papers. That is to say, it's not a prequel, nor a sequel - my novel explores how Pickwick came to be, and what happened afterwards. And, in my view, Pickwick is not only a great novel, it also has the best backstory of any work of fiction I have encountered. And here is the thing: my novel parallels Pickwick in numerous ways, so my novel rambles too - I have interpolated episodes, all of which shed light on Pickwick and its history. Anyway, Death and Mr Pickwick will be published in May by the Random House Group (in the UK) and in June by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA). You can find out more at:, where I can also be contacted. Best wishes Stephen Jarvis