The Pleasure of Reading to Impress Yourself
But there are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one’s range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one’s own; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation.
Much too long a book for so little to happen in it.
You Should Seriously Read “Stoner” Right Now
As a fictional hero, William Stoner will have to dwell in obscurity forever. But that, too, is our destiny. Our most profound acts of virtue and vice, of heroism and villainy, will be known by only those closest to us and forgotten soon enough. Even our deepest feelings will, for the most part, lay concealed within the vault of our hearts. Much of the reason we construct garish fantasies of fame is to distract ourselves from these painful truths. We confess so much to so many, as if by these disclosures we might escape the terror of confronting our hidden selves. What makes “Stoner” such a radical work of art is that it portrays this confrontation not as a tragedy, but the essential source of our redemption.
(From New York Times, May 11, 2014)
I read Stoner back in 2009, and here’s the review I wrote at the time:
“A moving story, but also awfully depressing. I had a hard time continuing on at points, especially when the author made it so clear that better things could have happened. After following the main character through his life though, I was sad to see how it all came to an end.”
Perhaps I’ll re-read it sometime, especially after reading this piece about it. I just don’t know if I need something potentially depressing right now.
The first Trollope novel I’ve read, this book kept making me think back to Dickens’ Bleak House, which I read at the end of last year. Both deal with a major legal case, though each very different in nature.
It may not be a fair comparison, but I definitely preferred Bleak House, for the style and overall feeling of the story. Orley Farm felt too drawn out for much less of an overall story — though it certainly had some of the same complexities — and it didn’t have the cozy feeling Bleak House had. I didn’t feel all that attached to most of the characters, who didn’t seem quite as well developed or defined, and my interest in the story waned as it dragged on.
There’s no jot of shame in leaving the books on your shelf unread
“A survey has found that half of an average home’s 138 books go unread. I’m surprised it is as low as a half. Books aren’t meant to be read “
(From The Telegraph, March 6, 2014)
Can Book Awards Poison Reader Reviews?
(From Pacific Standard, February 19, 2014)
“Two business researchers, Balázs Kovács and Amanda J. Sharkey, at the Universities of Lugano and Chicago, respectively, analyzed thousands of reader reviews on Goodreads of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for top book awards — including the National Book Award, the Man Booker Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award — between 2007 and 2011. To their surprise, while sales of the books that won awards skyrocketed following recognition, the online ratings of these same books plummeted.”
The article goes on to explain that this may be due to having a wider audience — people with more varied tastes in books — reading a book, simply due to the award it received, rather than due to it fitting their own interests.
That seems to make sense, and I’ve definitely experienced this myself. I’ve read books based on an award they won, rather than just being interested in them, and I rarely ended up actually enjoying them. Though I think I have often attributed it more to judges awarding books for being edgy or show, rather than actually good. ;)
I’m a little skeptical of the researchers only having looked at Goodreads, since I’ve seen variations between reviews there and on other book community or bookselling sites. They did mention that Goodreads users are fairly representative of fiction readers in general, but the researchers also weeded out the ratings without a comment, and extrapolated other data that wasn’t explicit, so that can skew things even more. So take that for what it is.
In the article I posted yesterday, about negative reviews, Francine Prose wrote about some of the things she dislikes seeing when reading a new book. Some of her examples included lazy writing, like using old cliches or tired phrases. (“His eyes were as black as night.”)
It got me thinking about some of the things that make me cringe when I’m reading. I think I also dislike when a writer uses words or phrases that are predictable or just overused. For example, a writer describing a character as “devouring” books or other reading material. I’m sure whoever used it first was being creative, but now it’s just boring.
Do you have any pet peeves like this? Something that makes you stop when you’re reading, or makes you think less of the writing somehow.
Do We Really Need Negative Reviews?
(From New York Times, February 16, 2014)
From The New York Times, a written debate between Francine Prose and Zoë Heller about whether (professional) book reviewers should write negative reviews.
Having only positive book reviews seems rather silly to me. I think a negative review, written constructively, can be a good thing, both for writers and readers. Just because a book was actually published doesn’t guarantee that it’s well-written or even worth reading.