Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Resuming with a Reading Meme

I've been neglecting this blog shamefully of late. I wish that I could report having been productive in other writing realms while I was absent from this space, but alas I must admit that I mostly filled in the time playing online Scrabble with Facebook friends. Does anyone else out there share this addiction? If so, let me know and we'll have a game! But now back to blogging. A reading meme seems a fine way to get back into the swing of things. I've borrowed this one from Litlove (who in turn borrowed it from Imani, Dewey, and Emily).

What are you reading right now?

I've been on a mystery binge, alternating between Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks novels and Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels. Both series are police procedurals set in Yorkshire and it has been most interesting to compare and contrast them as I read instalments of each back-to-back. Other books that I'm currently in the midst of (okay, in at least one instance, stuck near the beginning!) include Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian Building, James Baldwin's Another Country, Charles Baxter's Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, and Miguel De Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Do you have any idea what you'll read when you’re done with that?

My TBR pile is, as ever, overflowing. But at the very top of that pile are Sean Dixon's The Girls Who Saw Everything, Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, Tsipi Keller's Jackpot, and Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers (edited by Rob McLennan).

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?

We don't have any magazines in our bathroom. The only magazine that I read regularly is Quill and Quire, and I have yet to consign it to the bathroom. Usually I read it cover-to-cover in a cafe en route home from the bookstore. However, I do have one of those fancy over-the-bath book racks so that I can take whatever I happen to be reading into the tub with me without fear of a dunking mishap.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?

I’ve forgotten the name of it, but there was a novel that I had to read for a third-year French class that nearly did me in. I wasn't very good at French so I struggled even with compelling works like Albert Camus' L'Etranger. Alas, the one I've forgotten the name of was in no way a compelling work. I was forever consulting the French-English dictionary for the meaning of unfamiliar words and they nearly always turned out to be obscure 19th century agricultural implements that I couldn't picture even once I had the English translation. I'm not sure if I ever finished the book. My final grade was the worst of my university career and I never took another French class.

What's the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

There isn't a single book that I press upon all of my friends and acquaintances. I'm alert to the fact that my tastes are eclectic and someone who shares my taste in literary fiction might not embrace the mystery novels or the children's literature that I love. On reflection though, I do have some stock recommendations within categories, so I'll outline some of those.

To girls, or people with daughters, or anyone who enjoys reading quality children's literature, I enthusiastically and repeatedly recommend Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series.

To mystery fans, I'm always recommending Laurie King's Mary Russell series and Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series.

To short story readers, I rave about Jackie Kay's Why Don't You Stop Talking? and Ali Smith's The Whole Story and Other Stories. I also try to persuade them, if they haven't already done so, to read my all time favourite short story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" by Delmore Schwartz.

For those who share my fascination with literary Paris in the 1920s, I'm apt to press upon them a copy of John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse.

More generally, to readers of literary fiction, I'm quick to recommend Dawn Powell's The Golden Spur, and Muriel Spark's The Comforters.

I could go on, but I won’t because I think I’ve already thoroughly defeated the purpose of the question with my voluminous list of recommendations!

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don't they?

They may not know my name but they certainly know my face. And they are unfailingly pleasant to me despite the shameful amount of space that books I've requested invariably take up on the hold shelf. There's one librarian who has taken to offering me unsolicited book recommendations with some frequency. I'm not sure if her recommendations are based on what she's seen me checking out or if they're just books that she has particularly enjoyed herself. Regardless, she strikes me as a kindred spirit and I enjoy my interaction with her.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don't like it at all?

On occasion, fellow bloggers have been less than enthusiastic about books that I've raved about here and vice versa. It underscores for me the element of subjectivity that is present in all aesthetic judgements. I'm often surprised by the disjunction in our reactions, particularly when the person in disagreement with me has shared my literary likes and dislikes in the past. But the ensuing discussion about the basis for the disagreement is always stimulating. This is why I so enjoy the various blog reading groups in which several readers focus their collective attention on a single book. I remember a very interesting range of opinions among the Slaves of Golconda about one of my all-time favourites, Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you're having sex? While you’re driving?

While eating: Definitely while I eat. On the odd occasion when I find myself going into a restaurant alone without a book, I'm likely to reverse course and buy something at the nearest bookstore to take in with me.

While bathing: Often while I bathe (see above).

While watching TV or listening to music: I will read with the TV or music on in the background. I can't focus on both at once though, so it's only justifiable if someone else in the room is enjoying the television show or the music. When I'm inside a book, the book is the whole world and everything else is blotted out of my consciousness. I don't even hear the phone ring, or others in the house shouting to me.

While on the computer: Not while I'm on the computer unless it's a research and writing scenario.

While having sex: I'm not going to answer that question! But I will tell you that my beau always chuckles when he gets home from a road trip and finds his side of the bed covered in piles of books that roughly approximate the size and shape of a human body. So easily replaced...

While driving: I don't drive, but I do regularly read on public transit. I can read on subways, streetcars, trains of all descriptions, and airplanes. But motion sickness gets the better of me if I read on buses and in cars, so on either of those modes of conveyance I have to make do with listening to audiobooks.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?

I don't remember being teased about my reading habits as a child. I do remember some of my friends being puzzled by my attachment to books and the amount of time I spent reading though.

What's the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn't put it down?

It's not so much a book being "so good" that will keep me reading late into the night. It has to be good to keep me reading at all, but to prompt me to forego sleep, generally there has to be an element of suspense involved. Not necessarily suspense in the genre sense (though it may be that), but the sort of plot that has me avid to find out how it all turns out. Books that have kept me up into the wee hours in the recent past include Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know, William McIlvanney's Weekend, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files, Caro Fraser's The Pupil, and Peter Robinson's In a Dry Season. As you've probably gathered, I'm often short on sleep!

On the flip side, there are some very good books that I would never stay up late to read because they're difficult books that require a level of attention of which I'm simply not capable when I'm tired.


Dorothy W. said...

One of these days I'm going to re-read the Betsy-Tacy stories; I haven't read them as an adult, and I think it would be so much fun. I'm sure I've said this before on the blog, but every time you mention those books I think of it again!

Julie said...

Nice meme. I just did it too. I can't believe you don't have magazines in your bathroom. :)

Darby M. Dixon III said...

Scrabulous is crackulous. Though I'm scared to challenge you again since you whipped me so hard the first time. :)

litlove said...

I love your answers, Kate! I'm off to find Memoirs of Montparnasse instantly, and to dig out my copy of Ali Smith's short stories. But I'm so sorry about your experience with the French novel - that could easily put a person off for life!

Courtney said...

I've been wondering about FAcebook lately as an old professor of mind sent me an invitation...but I'm not sure I need yet another distraction on the internet...Great meme, good to have you 'back'!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you mentioned the Dawn Powell book. Ever since I caught a reference to her on Gilmore Girls (note my lack of embarrassment here!), I've been meaning to explore her works.


Carrie K. said...

I just did this on my blog.

I loved Betsy-Tacy growing up, but can't get my daughter interested. She's wanting to read all fantasy or Nancy Drew lately.

I listened to What the Dead Knew on audiobook and thought it was fantastic!

Dewey said...

I adore online Scrabble! I mostly play the yahoo version, Literati, even though it's sort of strange with random distributions of letters. It's nice to play with friends and chat as you play.

Such thorough answers! I really enjoyed reading this. And OMG I used to devour those Betsy-Tacy books as a kid! I had completely forgotten about them til now. Thanks for the wonderful flashback!

Susan said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Scrabulous. I used to play all the time on Playsite (I think that's what it was called) until they took Scrabble off. I was SOOO glad to find another version - I signed up immediately. Let's play sometime!!