Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Are You Reading?

I’m a part-time library associate here at RPL. I’ve been an avid reader since . . . well, forever. I read both for entertainment and for enlightenment, both to escape and to engage. I love to talk with library patrons about what we’re reading, and to recommend books based on their likes and dislikes. From time to time I’ll contribute snippets about books and reading to this blog. My reading habits are wide-ranging and even . . . peripatetic. Like many readers with varied interests, I read several books at one time, and choose based on the time of day, my mood, and my energy level. I also listen to audio books when I walk, and enjoy the experience of listening to a book “performed” by a good narrator. At any one time, I may be reading a memoir or other light non-fiction, a more serious or challenging nonfiction selection, a contemporary literary novel, and a story collection, in addition to listening to an audio book.

The variety has enriched my reading experience and exposed me to new ideas, and has helped me recommend books of all kinds to library patrons. So if someone were to ask me right now, “What are you reading?” they would hear something like this: “I’m in the middle of Gary Shteyngart’s darkly comic Super Sad True Love Story. I just started The Fall of the House of Walworth by Geoffrey O’Brien, a scholarly social history of a Gilded Age family in Saratoga Springs. I just finished Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality, a continuation of the ideas in his 2008 Predictably Irrational, and am almost done with The Price of Altruism, a biography of mathematician and geneticist George Price. I am listening to Bill Bryson read his new At Home, and am partway through Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, stories by Wells Tower.”

So how about you? What are you reading? Feel free to jump in and comment on these discussions.


Lydia said...

I'm also reading a few different things at once:

The Cranford Chronicles by Elizabeth Gaskell--so funny.

Phantoms in the Brain by VS Ramachandran

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Prince Caspian by CS Lewis--I'm reading the Narnia books with a four-year-old I babysit. I thought she might be too young, but she LOVES them.

Brett Busang said...

A friend in Washington loaned me a book I've seen out of the corner of my eyes, but have neglected to approach - in part because I considered if merely "about Richmond", and because I can be an intermittent nonfiction snob. (I consider it superior when I try to do it myself and below-the-water-line when I move onto other things.)

However, I think every Richmonder who has encountered the insolence of office should consider diving into Southern Lady, Yankee Spy by Elizabeth Varon. As a Yankee myself, I was not surprised to learn (or, rather, observe for the umpteenth time) that social and political views that run contrary to local predjudices can not only change history, but leave people on the wrong side of it high and dry. It has taken a century and a half for prideful Southerners to even consider acknowledging the heroism of their foes. Until recently, the legend of "Crazy Bet" (a nickname that stuck) was given lip service in the press. Ms. Varon's book is a corrective to local perceptions and is well worth the trouble. Anybody who is interested in where we are today would be well to sit with this "crazy lady" and watch her go.

Should the book ever be fictionalized, it will need to hew very closely to the events that came out of an increasingly radicalized political consciousness - which is precisely what happened when Elizabeth Van Lew, a well-born Richmond lady, started to think about the conditions that gave some people the opportunity to pursue happiness while shutting others out of that pursuit. Which is to say: slavery was dead wrong and it had to be overthrown. Such moral absolutism is rarely on the side of the angels, as we can see today in all of the brouhaha about denying health care to every citizen; tossing money down the flue of a devouring war machine; discrediting dissenters at every turn.

I don't think it's possible to know too much about what a ruthless majority can do to a few people who are trying to make a better life for those who can't agitate for themselves.

On a lighter note, I'd recommend Steve Stern's The Frozen Rabbi. If it is possible to be a Jewish Mark Twain, Steve gets the prize.

Kristin said...

I just finished reading The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout. So the question is: what will I read next? I've been thinking George R.R. Martin or maybe The School for Fools by Sasha Sokolov.