Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Lists

by Kit Bakke

My husband Peter likes both Nick Hornby and Sarah Vowell, so I thought I’d hit pay dirt when I bought him a Nick Hornby book that has a Sarah Vowell introduction. As it turned out, he found the book a bit repetitive and quit about half way through, so I gave it a try.

I can see Peter’s point, but I still love the concept. Shakespeare Wrote for Money is a compilation of Hornby’s columns for The Believer in 2007 and 2008, in which he listed the books he’d bought the previous month, and commented on the books he’d read that same month. A bonus treat for me, since I’m working on writing one, were the couple of months Hornby spent discovering, reading, and greatly enjoying young adult novels. Hornby’s lists of books bought and books read always overlapped, but were never identical. Book-choosing is such a personal pleasure; it was fun to imagine Hornby picking which books to read, and which to postpone until later, and how those choices might have been similar or different from mine.

So I thought I’d list the books I’ve bought recently, and the ones I’ve read in the last month or so.

Books bought: Book Thief by Markus Zuzak; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; Music by Nicholas Cook; To Music by Ketis Bjornstad; The English Novel by Walter Allen; Community and Commitment by Rosabeth Moss Kanter; Angel in the Forest by Marguerite Young; Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See; and, Utopia by Thomas More.

Books read: Community and Commitment; Brooklyn; most of Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee; a 1940s British murder mystery which I’ve already forgotten both author and title that I borrowed from a friend for a trip; Walden Two by B.F. Skinner; Utopia by Thomas More; and, The Paris Review Interviews with Women Writers, edited by George Plimpton.

Perhaps a theme emerges. A theme of confusion perhaps. Sherlock Holmes might notice that: 1. I don’t read much from the New York Times Bestseller lists; 2. I read fiction and nonfiction; 3. I seem to have a thing for women writers, maybe; and 4.What’s all this about utopias and music? Perhaps in the comments section we can explore this further.

The books we read are dependent on the sources we tap for book recommendations — friends, bookstore employees, printed reviews, the internet, covers that jump out at us while browsing, authors whose names we recognize as having enjoyed before. I enjoy combing bibliographies and references from books I’m already reading — like a frog leaping from lily pad to lily pad, I can go from book to book without ever leaving a book. On the other hand, I’m one of those people who’ve never joined a book club because I don’t want other people to tell me what to read, and yet, of course I take other people’s suggestions all the time. Recently, I’ve been pelted with more than the usual number of “you must read this!” comments (including from Walter, my hair guy) for The Help by Kathyrn Stockett. Friends who know you well enough to recommend books that you would have chosen for yourself are a treasure.

We read for differing reasons — to escape, to relax, to learn, to prepare, to keep up — and there are books to meet all those needs. Even the act of reading has meaning, regardless of content. At a recent Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, I heard a literary agent say that books are among the few places children can go nowadays to engage their minds in privacy and imagination.

I couldn’t agree more. And that goes double for adults.

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