Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In Which I Post Some Questions and Answers Because I Am In the Middle Of Several Really Long Books

I stole this from a fellow blogger friend Carrie, and figured I would use it because a) it looked fun and b) I am in the middle of Daniel Deronda, The Stuarts, and Goethe's Faust Part 2. In other words, around 1700 pages. As usual, I reserve the right to give completely non-responsive answers to the questions. What can I say? I'm obviously a rebel.

1. Favorite childhood book? Asking a reader this question is a little unfair. I'll list a few:

I probably read All About Electricity more times than any other book during my childhood. I also loved The Phantom Tollbooth. I read Tom Sawyer over and over as well. The Great Brain books. Perhaps the most influential may have been Watership Down, which I read multiple times during my teens.

2. What are you reading right now? The three books above. Also, I am reading some Tennyson, and am listening to Our Kind of Traitor by John LeCarre while traveling for some out of town cases this month.

3. What books do you have on request at the library? None at the moment, because I have promised myself that I WILL finish Daniel Deronda and The Stuarts before I order any more. I recently returned Pablo Neruda and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

4. Bad book habit? I'll just copy Carrie's answer: "Buying books faster than I can read them." Um, yes. And faster than I can find shelf space.

5. Do you have an e-reader? Yes. Actually, I use a Kindle app on my tablet. It comes in handy while waiting in court.

6. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? Definitely multiple books at once. I try to always be reading fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry. I'm just better at the multitasking than trying to finish one at a time. Also, I like something I can fit in a small time period. A short poem, or a short story, for those days when I don't have much time.

7. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? Again, Carrie's answer is as good as anything I would write: "Having the blog pushes me to read for deeper meaning. I think I get more out of books as a result of having a book blog. I stop and consider passages for longer and allow time for things to sink in." Also, blogging about books has made me think about counter arguments for my points, and has made me pay attention to how I sound to my friends and readers across the political, theological, and religious (or not) spectrum.

8. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? I'm looking at my list, and I can't really find one I didn't like. Some better than others, though. I wasn't sure about Black Swan Green at first, because the arc of the story wasn't apparent until later in the book. On reflection, it made more sense. Also, I spent too much time in the first few chapters looking up the British slang, so it detracted a bit from the sense of flow.

9. Favorite book you’ve read this year? This one is tough. Probably the two non-fiction books that I liked the best this year were Railroaded and Iron Curtain. The fiction book that provoked the most discussion was The Scarlet Letter.

10. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? It depends. Occasionally I will read popular fiction or genre fiction, but usually only if a friend recommends a particular book. I never read "bad political screed of the day" type books or trendy fiction. I am unlikely to read a book by an author known to fabricate (see James Frey) or use laughably shoddy research or investigation (see Peter Duesberg). Authors who write books intended to be read only by those who share their views (preaching to the choir), particularly if they take advantage of the lack of skepticism to fabricate or distort. (see David Barton and Al Franken) Also, no conspiracy theories. There are probably a few more I am forgetting, but I do try to read books from a wide variety of eras, cultures, viewpoints, and genres. I like to learn new stuff. So if it is well written, suggest it and I might just read it when I get time.

11. What is your reading comfort zone? I love classic literature. I am fond of poetry in general, but particularly of Frost, Dickinson, and Rosetti. I love well written non-fiction on a variety of topics. I can't abide poorly written books of any sort, and have a particularly low tolerance for navel-gazing female non-fiction, (I would absolutely use Eat, Pray, Love as kindling) pop-political or pop theological books, particularly if they skew toward "self-help." 

12. Can you read on the bus? Yes. Except on curvy roads. But I am usually driving, so I do books on CD instead.

13. Favorite place to read? Sometimes in the library, but the chairs don't quite fit my posture. More often, propped up in my bed, with the kids in bed and a glass of wine on the nightstand.

14. What is your policy on book lending? I only lend books to certain people. If you lose a book, you won't borrow from me again. I'm not fond of damage either, but usually people just lose my books rather than damage them. If you are on my list of borrowers, I WILL write down your name, the book, and the date, and nag you about when you are going to finish it. Yes, I am insufferable. But if you lend me a book, I will return it in good condition.

15. Do you ever dog-ear books? Have you ever heard fingernails on a chalkboard? Stop saying that! Gah! My preferred method is to write the page and enough words to refresh my memory so I can consult it when I blog. I could see sticky notes too.

16. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? No. And it annoys me when I note someone has written in the margin. Particularly of library books.

17. Not even with text books? No. I'm not a big note taker anyway. But if I wanted to note something, I would use a sticky note in the margin.

18. What is your favorite language to read in? English, because that's all I've got. But I really like reading aloud in Spanish or Italian, because it sounds so amazing. Try reading The Divine Comedy out loud. Yeah. Now if only I could truly understand it rather than just get a word or two here and there. I wish I could actually pronounce French and German, because that would sound cool too.

19. What makes you love a book? For fiction, three dimensional, memorable characters. I prefer it when the plot and the characters are in harmony. For example, a character should behave how he or she actually would, rather than just in service to the plot. Does that make sense? I love creative and witty use of language in all genres. Bad writing will absolutely kill a book for me, even if it makes good points. I love books that don't dictate to the reader, but allow the reader to come to his or her own conclusions. If you have to preach, it is because you didn't do a good job telling the story (fiction) or because your facts and presentation were unconvincing (non-fiction). I love books that shed light on the experience and truth of life. Books that help one see life through other eyes, that can transport you through place and time without making you painfully aware of that fact. And, of course, books that make me think. That's a big plus.

20. What will inspire you to recommend a book? If a book has been influential to me, or was enjoyable, I will recommend it. That's a lot of books right there. I might recommend someone who has trouble seeing the opposite viewpoint read a book from that viewpoint.

21. Favorite Biography? I need to read more biographies. Two that come to mind are Ronald Reagan's autobiography. Whether you agree or disagree with him politically, the man was full of witty zingers and self-deprecating humor. The other would be William Manchester's series on Winston Churchill. (Hey, another wit. Surprise!) I'll confess I have only read the first volume, so that needs to go on the list as well.

22. Have you ever read a self help book? Yes. Which is why I don't tend to read them.

23. Favorite cookbook? Ones that I use the most: The Joy of Cooking, which has how to do everything. Seriously. Chinese Cooking for Everyone, which I have owned since my teens. I love my extensive Frugal Gourmet collection. Julia Child. I am a Food Network junkie, which is why we don't have cable TV. I would waste too much time...

24. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? The Wind in the Willows, which I read with my kids. Wait, I should have included that in my favorite childhood books list!

25. Favorite reading snack? I try not to read and eat at the same time, because I am a klutz. And I get sticky fingers or splatter food and... well, it's like eating spaghetti while wearing a white shirt. Things happen. Let's just say I love my books too much to risk food. I've gotten reasonably good at setting the book down out of the way before taking the sip of wine. It works for me.

26. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. I've had the opposite problem. I deliberately avoided books which certain people liked because of how they "hyped" it, only to find out later that the book was fine, but the person had no clue about it. Best example of this is Wuthering Heights, which I identified with the sort of fluffy teen girls who would actually moon over Heathcliff. Um, yeah. Amazing how someone can read a book and COMPLETELY miss everything about it except the dark hair and wild eyes. And fall in LOVE. Okaaay.

27. How often do you agree with critics on a book? It depends on the critic. Mark Twain's critique of James Fenimore Cooper is hilarious. And also accurate. I also have generally liked books recommended by Ron Rosenbaum and Marvin Olasky, who are completely opposite politically and religiously; but both appreciate well written books. For example, they recommended, respectively, Why Does the World Exist and The Cypresses Believe In God, both of which I highly recommend. I obviously ignore critics who like certain chick-lit books.

28. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I would hate to give a negative review to someone that I know personally, which is why I will read books written by friends, but will not blog about them. For people I don't know and will likely never meet? I'll be brutally honest. If the author is dead, even more so. Go ahead and haunt me, Tobias Smollett!

29. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? I think that honor would go to my UCC textbook in law school. Although there were plenty of others. For regular books, I would say Winston Churchill's six volume World War II set. Five thousand pages. But it was actually really fun. Or, I might go with The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis, which is all about the medieval romance. Lots of Middle English.

30. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin? I really want to read War and Peace. Or maybe Anna Karenina. 

31. Favorite poet? Robert Frost. But Emily Dickinson and Christina Rosetti are really close behind. And there are so many more I love. Take a look through my blog for some more favorites.

32. Favorite fictional character? Favorite in what way? I identified with Nicholas Nickelby as a teen. I tend to like memorable humorous or loathsome characters best. Obadiah Slope from Barchester Towers. The title character from H*Y*M*A*N  K*A*P*L*A*N. Walter Mitty. Athelstane from Ivanhoe. Captain Wragge from No Name.

33. Favorite fictional villain? I must admit that Obadiah Slope is one favorite. Does Gollum count as a villain? Perhaps I like the complex villains, that you feel just a tiny bit sorry for at the end.

34. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation? Something by Alan Bradley or Patrick O'Brian. Something I can put down and pick up without losing my train of thought.

35. The longest I’ve gone without reading. I'll say four or five days while backpacking. Sometimes I bring a book, but not always. Last time I spent my time watching meteors instead.

36. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? My five children. Which is why I do most of my reading after they go to bed.

37. Favorite film adaptation of a novel. The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Honorable mention to the BBC version of The Barchester Chronicles.

38. Most disappointing film adaptation? I kind of vaguely remember some movie that was so bad we turned it off. Since I don't remember what book was involved, I think I repressed the memory.

Okay, two have come to mind. First is the Shirley Temple version of Heidi. Which had nothing to do with the book, as far as I can tell. Except the alps and a grandfather. (This is really too bad, because I actually admire Shirley Temple (Black). I first heard of her through her involvement in the Rose Parade, and she seems to be a real class act, which is unusual for a child star. But this movie sucked.)

The second is A Girl of the Limberlost, which is definitely a repressed memory. It contains the absolute WORST violin faking of all time. My psyche has scars from this. Deep scars. Okay, I'll vote for this as the worst movie adaptation of all time.

39. The most money I’ve spent in the bookstore at one time? I am a used book junkie, so my total cost is usually low. Probably under a hundred bucks. Actually, one of the ways I limit my book purchases is to limit myself to used hardbacks except in unusual circumstances.

40. How often do you skim a book before reading it? What's the point? I read for the details, not the broad sweep of the plot.

41. Do you like to keep your books organized? Yes. Someday, the kids will let me accomplish this.

42. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? I rarely if ever buy a book I don't want to keep. Another bonus of limiting myself to hardbacks. If I am unsure, I will borrow it from a friend or the library.

43. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? I don't know if I would put it that way. My list is so long right now that any book that I might think about avoiding has probably given up trying to bust into my queue anyway.

44. Name a book that made you angry. Here are some that did this year and why: The Scarlet Letter, because I discovered how vicious John Winthrop was to Anne Hutchinson. The Souls of Black Folk because of how the allegedly Christian doctors let Du Bois' infant son die rather than treat a person with black skin. Iron Curtain because of Stalin's letter condoning the rape of German women. I hate it when people are callously cruel and hateful to others. In all three of these cases, it was because the victim was first dehumanized.

45. A book you didn’t expect to like but did? If I pick a book, I expect to like it. If someone I trust recommends a book, I give it the benefit of the doubt. If I really think I will hate it, I don't bother to read it. Life is too short.


  1. Wait, you actually *read* the UCC textbook? I'm not sure even I did that . . .

    1. Oddly, I found the UCC textbook more helpful than most. I think I would have rather killed myself than read the casebook for civil procedure, though. I got good grades for the UCC, had a bankruptcy/UCC issue in a case, and probably forgot the rest since then. Oh well...

  2. Ha! Fingernails on a chalkboard. haha!

    And yes, I agree, book blogging also makes me think through the counter arguments (usually provided by yourself). ;)

    Glad to know I'm not the only one who is "stingy" in the lending. (Although I don't really see it as stingy. If people can't return the book quickly and in the same condition in which it was loaned to them then they aren't really deserving and need to find another means of obtaining their books.)

  3. You should read both War & Peace and Anna Karenina. They are much more engaging than the UCC.

    1. I have no good explanation for why I haven't read these.

      I read The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and Notes from Underground, so I obviously can handle long Russian books. For Tolstoy, in addition to many short stories and sketches, I read the shorter novels The Death of Ivan Ilytch, Family Happiness, and The Kreutzer Sonata. (The last two are on the list of the works that most influenced my thought, one way or another. Family Happiness has one of the best and most haunting final sentences in all of literature...)

      I should select one of them as my long book project for next year.

    2. Alright, I went and looked up that final sentence. I've added it to my impossibly long reading list. I look forward to your review of either War and Peace or Anna Karenina. Since you mention The Brothers Karamazov, The Grand Inquisitor chapter would be an interesting review all on its own.

    3. The Grand Inquisitor would make for a great discussion. I first read that in high school, and, just wow. In the context of the book and the discussion between Ivan and Alyosha, it just gains in depth.