Friday, June 8, 2012

The Richer Part of Simply Richer Living

  I am a huge reader.  I love a wide range of literature, depending on my mood; during this particular time of change in my home life, I'm loving non-fiction (biography and history).  When I'm calmer and feeling a lot more secure, I love more serious fiction -- Lolita baffled me, until I got to the end and everything became clear.  When things are smooth, I have the patience to make a long investment to find out why something is worth the effort.

And of course I'm a sucker for really great popular fiction, like (I'm not embarrassed to admit) Twilight or Outlander or The Partner or a great mystery/thriller/spy/horror novel.  I love that summer gives me such an excellent excuse to read beach books.

Because I'm in a time of transition and the busy-ness of the end of my kids' school year, I'm enjoying the solidness of a good biography, which is absorbing and thought-provoking, but solid and lacking any real suspense.  The one I'm reading now, Lytton Strachey: The New Biography ** by Michael Holroyd*, is exceptionally well-written, and the story of Holroyd's efforts to bring it forth is interesting in itself.  I'm really enjoying it, but since I know the broad outline of Strachey's story, I am totally OK with setting the book down to run an errand or go to bed or hang out with my kids or whatever the day requires.  Whereas, when I read Twilight, I sucked the four volumes down in one weekend while my kids watched waaaaaay too many movies and ate peanut butter & jelly sandwiches so I could prepare their meals while I read the book (I'm not kidding -- I set the book next to their plates and read while I spread the jelly).

The best exercise I've gotten in the last six months was the hour I spent pacing my own house while I read  the last few chapters of Dragonfly in Amber, the second book of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  Seriously, I was panting by the time I had to put the book down to pick up my kindergartener, and it wasn't just because of the steamy sex scenes.

Anyway, business is beginning to wind down on this whole house sale/move business -- FINALLY -- and my mind is turning to fiction and engagement again.  So when I found this article, "Read and Comprehend (Nearly) Everything" by Nick Kolakowski, the timing was right.  And I liked it.  Apparently, the secret to understanding Dante's Inferno isn't just being a poetry-comprehension genius -- it's in shelling out the bucks (or having the patience to find for cheap or free) for a really good explanatory edition.  And then having the patience to work your way through it with the endnotes/footnotes.

I have to say, that's pretty reassuring.  It takes a lot of that whole "I didn't go to Oxford so I will never understand this stuff" out of it and just replaces it with a bit of work.  Which one is free to undertake, or not, with basically a $15-$17 investment.  Not to mention Internet access.

Kolakowski also references the Modern Library Top 100, which apparently wasn't only relevant on the eve of Y2K.  The cool thing about the Top 100 list is that it's actually several lists, including reader lists and board ("expert") lists, Radcliffe's Rival list, and a list of 100 Best Non-Fiction.  It's a nice resource to reference when you're not sure what to read next, or if you just want to create kind of a "bucket list" of reading material.  For myself, that's an impossible task, as my "to-read" list grows literally at least twenty times faster than my "read" list.

Which brings me to Goodreads.  I have kept a journal of the books I've read and had recommended to me since I was in high school, but I've abandoned them all now.  I keep track of what I've read and what I'm going to read and what I am currently reading on Goodreads.  It's like a Facebook for fellow readers.  I'm very picky with my friends list -- I have only 23 on Goodreads, compared to ten times that many on Facebook -- and that includes writers who interest me (like Jasper Fforde, who also merits his own blog entry).  I only want friends on Goodreads who are either so close that I can't ignore them (like my husband) or whose reading taste is so similar to mine that I want to know what has caught their eye -- like two friends whose permission to be mentioned I have not requested.

The point is, I recommend Goodreads as a great resource for reading and for reviews.  The reviews are a little more stringent, but more accurate, than those on Amazon, and tend to be written by people who actually read or attempted to read the book they are reviewing.  There are also opportunities to receive free books as part of Goodreads' Giveaway program, among other things.


Sorry, got a little distracted placing entries for the Giveaway program...

Anyway, Goodreads doesn't give me anything to plug them, either, but I love how functional and reliable it is.  If the zombie apocalypse comes along on December 21, 2012, and there's no more internet, then I'll be hurting for sure, but for now, it's a great tool and resource.  Check it out.

Kolakowski's final paragraph takes all the pressure off reading with a purpose:
Most constant readers find a balance between the complex, "deep" stuff (i.e., Nabokov, weighty biographies of famous historical figures) lightened with servings of frothy popular literature and nonfiction.
The takeaway here is:  even when life is crazy and hectic and maybe even borderline unmanageable, find a way to do the things you love in ways that fit your life as it is shaped in the moment.  There is something out there that can refresh your brain, whatever way it needs refreshing, and if you don't, then what's all the rest of it for?

Lytton Strachey,
as painted by Dora Carrington
courtesy Wikipedia
  *Lytton Strachey was a member of the Bloomsbury Group and a close friend of Virginia Woolf's.  He is famous in his own right for his excellent historical writing, especially Eminent Victorians and Queen Victoria (I'm not sure this link is the best edition available but hopefully it's all right).  He was one of the first historical writers to write not just hagiography, but a full and personal biography that considered the subject from a variety of perspectives.  This is a lot more important than it sounds and would be worth spending an entire separate post on, but for now it's sufficient to say that the world would be a much stiffer place without Lytton Strachey, who is an absolutely delightful character.  If you don't have it in you to read 500 pages of great and detailed biography that includes snippets of him prowling darkened WWI London in search of handsome young men, then watch the movie Carrington, starring Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce, among others, available on Netflix Instant Queue.

** Note that I'm not remunerated by anybody at all for anything that I put on my blog at this time, I'm only sharing these links for my readers' convenience.


  1. I still have yet to spend time working out how Goodreads works. Got an account but always seem to run out of time. I can totally relate to the Twilight books though :) Never read Lytton Strachey and in awe you read so much with young kids.

  2. Goodreads is kind of a check-the-box kind of thing for me. I can use it when I'm in conversation with people, I can use it to add items to my to-read list that my friends have added to their list (there's a very slow feed so it's easy to pop on once every week or two without missing anything), and I also tend to add to it or check it when my book club gets together.

    I am able to read so much because I'm not terribly knowledgeable about television or movies or music -- so it's a trade off. The only reason I know about Game of Thrones is that my husband turned me on to the books. But that's OK with me.

  3. Thanks for following Carole's Chatter. I will add you to my Blog list too. Happy blogging!

  4. thanks for the suggest of Jasper Fforde for Books You loved. Have a great week.