Sunday, June 8, 2008

What to Read

I have a dilemma on the reading front right now. On August 25th I’ll be starting graduate school, and I’m having trouble deciding how to plan my reading for the summer. A part of me wants to start exercising my comprehension muscles right now, reading deep analytical tracts about Antebellum culture and Liberian colonization, but the other part of me recognizes that once I’m immersed in graduate work it may be a while before I can read completely for pleasure again. It’s not necessarily that reading about my subject of interest isn’t pleasurable, but neither is it exactly the type of reading where you can throw your legs up on the porch railing while waiting out a hot day.

What’s making the dilemma worse is that while I’m working at the library I get to see the best-sellers circulate on and off the shelves, and it’s piqued my curiosity about all these current authors. James Patterson is our most popular author and, from what I can tell, you can easily read his books in a day, or an evening even. I picked up one of his books recently and just opened up to a middle chapter and read the first line. It was short and perfunctory but kind of enticing too. It seemed unapologetic. After one sentence I imagined that I could tell what sort of reading experience the book would bring me. But I have to use caution with these assumptions. I’ve started books that I was all excited about and later hurled them across the room at around chapter nine. Patterson’s portrait on the back cover doesn’t help either; he looks like the kind of guy that would have you removed from his yacht for wearing the wrong sort of loafers. But you know what they say, you can’t judge a book…..well, you know the rest.

David Baldacci is another one who’s widely read. We get veterans coming in for W.E.B. Griffin a great deal. Daniel Steele is still at the top of the list along with Robert Parker and, to my horror, Pat Buchanan is writing history books (aaaargggg) and Newt Gingrich is writing historical fiction. (Well actually, Pat Buchanan is probably writing historical fiction too but he’ll never admit it.) One encouraging detail, Barack Obama’s books are some of the most heavily circulated.

I’m wondering if I should give any of these authors a try, like having one last fling before settling down. Should I go on a Nora Roberts binge or finally start reading Harry Potter? I’ve got less than three months before I’m researching day after day. Is this the last time I’ll get to discover that prolific woman who writes about African detective agencies? All of these books come highly recommended by fine people who can’t get enough of one certain author or another. One of the most common comments I get is that the patron can’t remember if they’ve read the book they’re checking out or not. Some of them trundle off with bags stuffed with books claiming “this should hold me for a week.”

It’s probably going to reach the mid-nineties today. There are some things I could get done today, but in all fairness to me I worked a long week last week, six days between the county, the college, the film class and helping prep food for a wedding on Saturday, plus three band practice sessions (we’re practicing more because the bass player is available in the evenings now). I just walked out on the porch and that lucky, but oppressive, ‘ole sun is dialing up another scorcher. Reading seems like the ticket.

But there’s one problem. I locked my book in my desk drawer at work. The key broke off in the lock and it probably won’t get fixed until tomorrow. The book is Barbara Tuchman’s history of British and Palestinian relations Bible and Sword. What’s worse is that my graduation pictures were in the book too. I was planning to scan them and post them to this very website, but that will have to wait for a later date. My mother and father are also reading the book and I thought it would be fun to discuss it with them. Now I’ll be behind. But no worries. I do have to realize though, that a mistake like this could be disastrous once I'm in grad-school.

So what to read today? I don’t have any of the above mentioned popular authors at hand. There are some books that were given to me as presents but they don’t seem to be calling me either. Wait, I’ve got it….there’s one Patrick O’Brian on the bookshelf I haven’t read. I think the glorification of England’s empirical dominance in the early 19th century makes for a happy medium between graduate study and James Patterson. Anchors away, see you on the front porch.


Courtney said...

About halfway through my graduate degree I was talking with a colleague and it turned out she read for pleasure every night before she fell asleep, no matter what else she had to read. I certainly had NOT been doing this but that day I went to our wonderful library, checked out some pleasure reading, and haven't stopped since no matter what. I highly recommend, no matter how consuming your work, to read for pleasure as well - it will balance everything out, like having donuts for breakfast and a salad for lunch.

IM said...

thanks courtney I'll do that AND have donuts for breakfast and salad for lunch. Two great pieces of advice.

litlove said...

I heartily concur with the supremely intelligent Courtney. You need the mental relaxation of pleasure reading more than ever as a graduate student. But I'd recommend something with a bit of nutrition to it, as narrative pap promotes acid (and book hurling). You want smooth prose and a few interesting ideas. Richard Powers might suit you, or Bill Bryson for fun, or Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything, which the chef in you would appreciate!

IM said...

Narrative pap. So that's what it is litlove. I love that expression! O'Brian fills that space between pap and scholarship for me, and I've always wanted to read Bryson. I feel like "The Man Who Ate Everything" myself sometimes, and can't wait to search this one out. Thanks. I always strive to be challenged no matter what. That's ultimately what keeps me engaged in a work.

Emily Barton said...

Go out and get The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, so you can take Courtney and Litlove's advice without resorting to the narrative pap of Danielle Steele (and also so you and I can talk about it). Meanwhile, hope your lock gets fixed, so you can be reunited with your latest history tome.

-- advice with love from The Woman Who Ate Everything (at least today)

IM said...

I hope I get reunited with my history tome soon too Emily, thanks for the recommendation.

JaaJoe said...

Did you see Patrick Buchanan's rendition of world war 2?!?! AHAHAHAHAH. It very cute. Check it out if your intrested here -
Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War

Froshty said...

I read the James Patterson series called something like the "Women's Mystery Club," and it's possible to read one of those books in less than a day because most of the chapters are less than three pages long. However, I find the writing uneven, possibly because Patterson has several different coauthors for the series. I only read one of his books that wasn't in that series; I think it was called "Kiss the Girls." That was a chilling book, but he endeared himself to me forever by making the heinous sociopaths/psychopaths that committed horrible crimes graduates of Duke. I can, however, recommend Dick Francis. His books are always page turners and he's written what seems to be thousands of books, so there's plenty to choose from.