As you may suspect from my summer reading series, I like reading books. And on this site, we’ve talked about book clubs, about long reads, about young adult books and reading the internet. Last week, Jen Doll’s diagnostic guide (and addendum!) on types of readers inspired an offline discussion with fellow Wheelhouse Reviewer and resident book co-expert Sarah Davis on approaches to reading (I’m a combination Book Snob and Multi-tasker, fyi. What are you?). So many books! So many ways to approach reading! Yet the average American only spends seven minutes a day reading.
Now, I’ve been a devoted reader as long as I can remember, for many many more minutes a day than 7. What inspired me to read? My parents, my grandmother, my friends who all loved to read and read constantly. Books have always been shared amongst friends. So to kick off a new reading series for the fall, I’ll be checking in with various readers and writers on the ways they are inspired to read and fit books into their life. Because I love being advicey, today’s tips are my own.
What was the last book you read?
On a weekend trip upstate I found a used bookstore/record store with the ideal curated
selection – lots of literary fiction, mostly 20th century – and picked up an old copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark. Per the Goodreads reviews, it’s one of Nabokov’s worst, but that means it’s still a really well-written book about people’s lives falling apart. A cheery fall read! Nabokov gets a bad rap sometimes for Lolita but he is an excellent writer. If you have an interest in the role the narrator plays in the structure of a book, he’s a great one (see also: Nathaniel Hawthorne).
Fiction or nonfiction? Why?
I mean, one shouldn’t have to choose. But I do, and normally for a book, I choose fiction. Stories! Characters! Plot! I get most of my informational and nonfiction reading done on the Internet. Reading should be a joy. If fiction bores you, pick up a good biography or science book.
How should I organize my bookshelf?
Nonfiction: by topic. Fiction: by author. Previously, like a good lit major, I had fiction organized by time period and nationality. Early 20th century English modernist literature and late 19th Century American literature were the best represented. But it’s just easier to find them. Note to style blog fans who organize books by color: don’t.
What’s a good book to give as a gift?
A classic kid’s book that adults can enjoy reading too. How about The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster?
Print or digital?
I gave up and got a Kindle last Christmas. I read a ton of classics and long books, so I use it primarily for that. It’s a tiny bit soulless but extremely efficient (hello, modern life!). I still love print books, but have run out of space for them. Read whatever format is easier for you!
What’s a book that stands up well to re-reading?
As is well documented here at The Wheelhouse Review, I love children’s and young adult lit. I have probably reread Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little Town on the Prairie or Farmer Boy the most. Since I’ve lived in New York, I try to read Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale every, er, winter. If you live in or like New York, reading it will make you like it more.
What’s a book to recommend to a friend just starting off reading fiction?
The book I have recommended the most to friends – male and female, readers and nonreaders – is The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read it: it’s an awesome, fast, exciting, engaging read. Plus there’s a movie!
Fancy bookmarks, folding the book over – how should I mark my place in a book?
The books I read on my Kindle remember my place – great when I come back to a book I started a couple months ago and stopped reading. Otherwise, whatever I can find. Usually old receipts. No fancy bookmarks for me.
What’s the ideal airplane read?
Now, the key with airplanes is it needs to be interesting enough to keep your attention but not so difficult that you give up and watch 5 consecutive episodes of The Big Bang Theory. It also needs to be long enough to last through a trans-oceanic flight but light enough that it doesn’t kill your carryon. On a 14 hour flight last August I started reading A Game of Thrones (nerd alert!). I was hooked. It was interesting, so so long, not particularly deep but extremely addictive and engaging. I arrived home, finished the book, and continued the series over the next several weeks until I finished. If you haven’t read the series and you have a flight coming up, I highly recommend getting them.
Are there any books I might regret reading?
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I’m sorry, but those are hours of your life you’ll never get back.
What author should I read everything by?
There are a few authors I have on my read-everything list. All of them are dead. So I have to balance my love of their books with the certainty that there’s a finite number of them out there. For me it’s Nabokov, Woolf, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. For you it may be someone entirely different.
Should I read before I go to sleep at night?
One of the most beautiful, peaceful books I’ve ever read is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Every sentence is the most perfect sentence. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Put it by your bedside table. Read a few pages every night before you turn off the lights. I guarantee your life will be improved – maybe only slightly, but prose like that makes the world a better place.