Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bibliophile's Lament

I'm a reader -- always have been, always will. At age three, I brought a Reader's Digest to my mom, and read a random page aloud to her. Correctly. She was only slightly surprised, because I was the kid who, when asked to choose a story at bedtime, would stack up a pile of books as tall as the rocking chair. And expect the chosen adult to get through every last book before finally tucking my sleepy body into the big bed in the little sloped-ceiling room at the top of the stairs in my grandmother's house.

I consumed Nancy Drew books by the dozen, finished all the Bobsey twins books before my 8th birthday, and grew tired of Babysitter's Club before I really aged out of them. I dug through boxes in my grandmother's garage and found her old Marjorie Dean books. (I should have kept those -- they're probably worth something now -- published in the 1920s, pretty good condition. Maybe there in my mom's basement?)

Then I found Anne Shirley, and totally had a crush on Gilbert Blythe. Rebecca was a revelation to me, and Jane Eyre rocked my twelve-year-old world. But so did The Hobbit and the whole Terry Brooks Shannara series. James Michener's Hawaii expanded my 14-year-old worldview and fueled my drive to explore the planet. My reading appetite was voracious, and I read everything my wise and wonderful mother threw in my path.

The trend has continued. Even now, with my extremely busy, harried, crazy life, I find a way to read a couple of books a week. My tastes run the gamut: literary fiction, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, memoir, biography, creative non-fiction, cookbooks, poetry, scientific treatises, history, philosophy, and political theory. But lately I have found myself dissatisfied with what's left. I've begun to think I've already read all the good ones.

Once, at the library, I decided to just start with "A". I selected 10 or so books from the first shelf of fiction and took them home, excited to discover some new authors and broaden my literary horizons. The experiment failed, because of those 10 books, 9 of them were absolute drivel. I have found myself, more and more, skipping to the back to find out how the plot resolves, and tossing the book aside because I have better things to do with my time. I am more and more critical of the things I'm reading -- and I don't just mean about plot, although there are some published works out there with some serious plot problems. I'm talking about style, word choice, flow -- and I find myself saying things like, "I could do better."

Wait! Did I just type that?!? Is this what it has come down to? Could I do better? Well, I'm not sure, but the time has come for me to try. I have an idea, and I have a plan, and in the meantime, blog land will continue to be my place to try out ideas, fiddle with my own style and syntax, and scratch the publishing itch while I'm working on something Real.

I'll always be reading, though. Provided I can find something worthwhile to endow with my time. Any suggestions? Go ahead. Hit me with your best shot! I will warn you: I am extremely well-read. It may be a challenge for you to come up with something I haven't already seen. I am also extremely hard to please. So don't be offended if I totally shoot down your Most Favorite Book Ever In The Entire Universe. (Cough, cough. Goose Girl. Cough, cough.)

How about it, readers? Are you up to the double challenge of finding something that not only have I not read, but that I will enjoy? It's tough, I know. But please. My brain thanks you in advance. (And while we're at it, can you throw in some recommendations for children's books, too? I am so tired of preschool morality tales! What happened to a rip-roaring good story? Please leave the moralizing to real-life applications!)

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  1. I'm coming out of lurkville to finally comment on your blog. I also read a lot, and I find myself in a bit of a slump--I can't find anything good lately. So if you get any good suggestions, let me know! Feel free to email me at histdoc at gmail dot com. I keep a list of all the books that I read on my blog, which you are welcome to peruse:

    Here are some of my favorite authors: Jasper Fforde, Margaret Atwood, Geraldine Brooks, Richard Russo, Neil Gaiman. You've probably read them but just in case.

  2. I'm currently reading The Glass Castle?
    So excited you are writing. Can't wait to hear what happens and maybe one day read something of yours!!
    My girls are currently loving the Little House on the Prairie series. Maybe your boys would enjoy it too?

  3. You haven't read Michener's Mexico, and so far, I've enjoyed it. And you've also got the Alaska and Texas bible-like books in your house at this very moment.

    What about the Harold Bell Wright books that Dad loved so much? And it was I who recommended both Book Thief and The Help, books that I know did not disappoint you in any way. So all hope for good books is not lost. They're out there. And when you write one, there will be one more.

    As for children's books, Charlotte just mentioned Your Mama is a Llama... it's one of her favorites. I've never read it. Have you?

  4. My girls (late teens) and I have been enjoying the Gallager Girl Series by Ally Carter

  5. Isabel Allende is a Chilean Author, yes some if not most of her books are in English too, give it a try, if you don't like it you won't hurt my feelings but if you buy the book and you don't like it I'll gladly buy it from you :)

    I also like Marcela Serrano (Chile) and Angeles Mastretta (Mexico).

    I'm interested on children books as well, at this point we are enjoying my son's bible, every night we read a couple of stories from it and he can't wait until the next night to see "what's coming next"

    (Please don't say Dr. Seuss, I know every one here loves him but his silly words don't make any sense to my 4 year old - nor me - except green eggs and ham which I could recite word by word right now)

  6. I just started The Great and the Terrible series. So far I'm enjoying them. My sister-in-law read them all and said they are great. The first one being the least favorite so she said I couldn't stop at the first one.

  7. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is a favorite of mine. The Persian Pickle Society was a cute read that I enjoyed recently. Um. My friend has recently loaned me a bunch of crap to read, so I feel your pain.

    My 9 year old daughter just recently discovered The Mysterious Benedict Society and really likes them. I read the first one and thought it was pretty good. Not the greatest in the world, but a good story.

  8. Atta Boy Sam by Lowis Lowry. One of the funnest, funiest kid books around.

  9. So my comment start didn't apparently even start. Good thing I switched to email due to length. Check your email. But I just thought of a children's book I love. Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly. I guess it's got a bit of morality too it, but it's just so well done and fabulously illustrated I forget the be-yourself-ness of it.

  10. Ahhh....I *still* have a crush on Gilbert. And you should be flattered that my sweet husband commented on your blog! He's right, though--you and MommyJ both should read aloud "All About Sam" and "Attaboy Sam" by Lois Lowry to your kids...

  11. One of my faves is Peace Like a River. I also have Angle of Repose by Stegner and How Green Was My Valley on my favorites list. I want to read more. I really do. But I teach all day and then come home exhausted. I am curling up tonight with Cutting For Stone for my book club.

    ps I would be excited to read whatever you want to try out on us here.

  12. You've seen the pictures of our home's "library" so you know I hear you.

    I've actually slowed down on my reading quite a bit these last few months but I'll give it a shot. I second the Jasper Fforde nomination. If you haven't read him, RUN, don't walk, to find your nearest copy of The Eyre Affair and work from there.

    Have you read The Mistborn Trilogy from Brandon Sanderson? Mind-blowing.

    Olive Kittredge? Kind of interesting. Also in the short story genre, one of my all time favorites: Nine Stories by JD Salinger.

    Loved Peace Like a River, Wild Swans was kind of absorbing and the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafon are refreshing. (Start with Shadows of the Wind.)

    If you want something that's a total throwback to the innocence of something like the Anne books, you can try Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost. (Same author, too lazy to Google.)

    And if you're exploring writing, give Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird a shot.

    Oh, and The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt was a great read in the YA category. Ooooh, and House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is great YA sci-fi although it's darker than you'd think YA would be. Oh, and Tangerine by Edward Bloor is great YA, too.

    Don't know so much for kids' books though.

    Tell us what you try and love. :)

  13. I have really been enjoying Danielle Steele and Laveryle Spencer lately. Have you heard of them? Hahahahaha! Just kidding! I wish I had something to recommend, but I have been a little less than thrilled with my reading selections lately. When I was in Jr. High, my mom started reading through the fiction shelves as well. I think she actually read (or tried to get through) every fiction book in the library. I think her summary is that there is a lot of published junk! Anyways, good luck and please keep us posted with what you find. Oh, and you should also try the Sweet Valley High series.

  14. Lurker here. It's Kate Santos (nee Carter), friend of your sister, fellow Falcon. I enjoy reading your blog (and your sister's, where I also lurk). If you haven't yet discovered her, you should read Gail Godwin. She's one of my favorite southern writers. At times her writing reminds me of yours: graceful, thoughtful, curious. I enjoy almost all of her writing, but "Father Melancholy's Daughter" is particularly good.
    Good luck with your search, and as a reader, I would enjoy knowing if you come up with a good find.

  15. Oh, and Herman Wouk. Winds of War, War and Remembrance, The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar. You can't go wrong.

  16. I second the Herman Wouk suggestions.
    Interested in nonfiction? Try Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Medieval World. I've also recently gotten into Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael mysteries.

    Children's books--We love Robert McCloskey here. Blueberries for Sal is probably my favorite.

  17. 'Hallelujah' by Scott Featherstone, wish he had written more than the one book. One of my favorite kids books right now is 'Skippyjonjones'. The large 15"x15" book is so fun to read aloud.
    Sure hope you get a book published soon. I love your writing style and the pictures your words create in my head.

  18. Where to begin? I assume you're looking for more modern fiction, as the classics are all long ago read?

    For children's books it depends on the age. I like Is Your Mama a Llama or Seven Silly Eaters or anything by Audrey Wood (my kids love Silly Sally Went to Town) for picture books.

    Older, elementary age readers I like Fablehaven series, books by Kate DiCamillo (I read the Tiger Rising and the Adventures of Edward Tulane to the kids this summer and all six loved them), or the Percy Jackson series. My reluctant but capable reader (9 years old) devoured them.

    Now the adult books is harder. I am busy keeping up with my older kids' YA books (I like to read what they're reading). I tend toward tragic so people don't always like my books. Here are some less common (maybe) ones I've liked:

    The Road (very ... stark)
    Ella Minnow Pea (easy read, but very cute)
    Interpreter of Maladies (short stories that are melancholy but enchanting)
    The Poisonwood Bible (older and more popular, but I just really liked it)
    the Heretics Daughter (about the Salem witch trails)

    I think I'll just stop now. Mostly because if I go farther I may never stop.

    I really like nonfiction and have a whole list of those, too, but I'll spare you.

  19. Hmm. That's a hard one. I'm really big into fantasy books (I think it's because I love to escape into a completely different reality from mine!)

    I also usually stick with young adult books, since every single time I try a new adult fiction book it get's too skanky too fast.

    I LOVE the Hero and the Rouge series by Hilari Bell. Also Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Andersen (haven't read the second one yet.)

    *also I'm sure all the other bibliophiles among your readers would love if you listed the ones you read an like. Who can't use a few new recommendations!

  20. I left a comment earlier but I don't think it showed up. Sorry if it does twice. I read a book called Whittington. It was a beautiful book that fed my soul. It's a children's book with lovely prose. Also, I read and enjoyed a very unusual middle grade fantasy adventure called Happenstance Found. Very interesting.

  21. I'm a bit late with this. Plus, I don't think that I have read half of what you have, but I'll give it a shot. I just read a few amazing books. Gilead. Katherine Maxfield, maybe. I'm not sure. It is beautiful. Extremely loud and incredibly close. Can't remember the author off the top of my head. Intense. Amazing. Hope that helps.

  22. I like Terry Pratchett. His Discworld series is fun and well-written, although it's sci-fi with a little fantasy thrown in so wait till you're in the mood. Oh, and hey. I'm still around btw, just been a lottle busy...

  23. Hi, I'm a newer reader. As I am always on the look out for good books this post made me smile. I relate. I found a new series that I have really enjoyed by Megan Whalen Turner The first book is "The Thief" Everyone who has borrowed them really enjoyed them.

  24. Oh what a long comment I could leave! I'll mention a few gems though and leave it at that. For now.

    Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and The Wintersmith

    Brandon Sandersons's Mistborn Trilogy, and Elantris

    Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry (quite intense but not graphic like some of his other works of fantasy - not for the faint of heart)

  25. I, too, am late to the party, having just rejoined the blogging world after my summer hiatus.

    In the hope that they will be new to you, here are my a few of my more unusual favs:

    Children's books
    The King Who Rained. By Fred Gwynne
    Once There Was a Bull (Frog). By Rick Walton
    Hooway for Wodney Wat. By Helen Lester
    Come Along Daisy. By Jane Simmons
    A Bad Case of Stripes. By David Shannon

    Juvenile Fiction
    The Great Brain Series. By John D Fitzgerald
    Words by Heart. By Ouida Sebestyen

    Adult Non-Fiction
    Endurance: Shakleton's Incredible Voyage. By Alfred Lansing
    Warriors Don't Cry. By Melba Pattillo Beals
    The Glass Castle. By Jeanette Walls

    This on is probably Young Adult Fiction. It's one of my all time favorite books.
    The Chosen. By Chaim Potok

    I'm so glad you did this post. We're about to start back up our book club and I was fresh out of ideas until I read through your comments!! Thanks!

  26. Oh, and one more thing. You go, girl! I would buy anything written by you!

  27. I have some absolute favorite children's books and could go on forever, but one of my favorite authors is Robert Munsch. He has great sound effects and fun stories that are about as far from Berenstain Bear's moralizing as you can get. They are just great, fun reads. Also, the book "I Stink" by McMullan is about a garbage truck. It's great. Hope that helps! I think I might use the comments here as a new reading list myself!

  28. So, just wanted to let you know that I found you! I've been reading back through a few of your posts and thought I'd leave a comment. I'm a bookworm too and have several on my list of "to read." I am currently reading the Chronicles of Narnia (I'm sure you've read that already) and once I finish reading that I'll read one recommended by my brother "To Destroy you is no loss: the odyssey of a Cambodian family" I couldn't tell you if that one is good or not since I haven't read it yet.

    Some of my recent favorites are:
    "Schindler's List"
    "The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B" (along with the other two in the series)
    "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"
    "Hunger Games"

    The list could go on, but you already have enough suggestions to keep you busy for a while. And I won't be offended if you don't like any of them. After all, I don't always like the books that people recommend to me. But as many others have said, I too would like a book review of the ones you end up reading.

    Your cousin-in-law


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