Tag Archives: book club

Challenge: Reading off the To-Read Shelf

I’m not buying any books between now and January 1, 2015*. Argh, it hurts just to write that sentence! I have a book buying addiction (which goes part and parcel with my reading addiction); last week I walked out of a used book sale with an actual trash bag full of books. And that was my second used book sale of the weekend.

When I have twenty minutes to kill, I beeline to my favorite bookstore (luckily I live in a place with a dozen really good ones) and I never walk out empty-handed. I’m like a ten-year-old on a road trip who needs a memento from every rest stop.

But books are not stupid keychains or snow globes, you’re lamenting! I know! They are so useful and pretty and full of wonder and adventure and insight! And each one is different! I know, I know, I know! I love them too!

So why am I punishing myself with this book-buying ban? Perhaps more importantly, why am I punishing my local bookstore economy that needs my dollars? Because of the To-Read shelf.

Screenshot_8_5_14_4_16_PM-2There are 84 books on my To-Read shelf. Some of them have traveled with me since I left for college eight years ago. Some of them have seen the insides of two dorm rooms and four different apartments. Some of them have traveled literally around the world in suitcases only to be overlooked because something new and shiny was calling from the English-language table in tiny bookstore in a small town in India.

I want to read my To-Read shelf and I don’t think I can do it without putting a moratorium on new acquisitions. It’s like when you buy a new sweater and all of a sudden it’s your new favorite sweater and all your other sweaters (the ones that used to be your favorites) are crap. The To-Read shelf books always gets pushed down below the fresh-off-the-bookstore-shelf books.

This is hopefully a way of reinvigorating my reading the way purging clothes usually reminds me of things I’ve been meaning to wear but don’t. It will make exciting the things that have been perceived as unexciting for all these years. There’s already a working list in my head of the To-Read books that are rising to the top of the pile (The Color Purple, The Yellow Birds, Maus and Aloft) and I’m genuinely excited to get cracking.

*So what are the rules? There are three exceptions to the No New Books rule. I am allowed to buy:

1. Gifts for other people

2. Books at author signings that I can add to my autographed collection

3. Book club books (though I’ll try the library first)

Why these exceptions? This plan is not about money-saving, though it will probably save me a few bucks along the way. I like spending money in bookstores and supporting the literary infrastructure of my city (or cities in which I’m traveling). These exceptions will allow me to continue supporting that infrastructure without accumulating quite as much stuff, of which I have far too much. They will let me keep participating in the booklover’s economy without overwhelming the To-Read shelf with new arrivals every other freaking day.

I don’t expect the To-Read shelf count to hit zero before New Year’s, but anything less than 84 would be considered a win!

Related Post: The last book I loved: Miss Anne in Harlem

Related Post: My book club is famous.

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Books

The last book I loved: East of Eden

eden2The Rumpus has a regular feature called “The Last Book I Loved,” and since I feel like writing about East of Eden, I think copying The Rumpus is a perfectly legitimate excuse. East of Eden was the last book I loved. That shit was 700 pages long and I could not put it down.

When I pick up a classic, my expectation is that I’m in it not for the book itself, but for the experience around this book, for the membership that comes along with being one of the people that has read this book, for the rights to participate in conversations about this book. I usually don’t expect the same visceral pleasure I get out of reading contemporary fiction.

But man… East of Eden, that book blew me away. It’s about all of the big questions that are worth tussling with, what does it mean to be a good person? What does it mean to be evil? What are our obligations to those we profess to love? How much do we get to choose and what do we inherit? It’s about asking, how should a person be? (Ironic given that I just finished a book by this exact title that I did not like). And oh my god, the writing:

On nostalgia: “Oh, strawberries don’t taste as they used to and the thighs of women have lost their clutch!”

On empathetic conversation: “There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.”

On Tom, and reading: “Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with book all over his face and hands”

On attention-seeking grief: “Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic?”

And on women, of course, because I can’t read a book with out my feminist lens. It’s a book that barely passes the Bechdel test, but I think there’s a fundamental understanding and sympathy with women of this era and the limitations they lived with. Lines like this, about Dessie’s dress shop, “It was a sanctuary where women could be themselves–smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested” or the horror of the doctor when Cathy tries to self-abort, “I suppose you took things too, poisoned yourself, inserted camphor, kerosene, red pepper. My God! Some of the things you women do!” The doctor may not be sympathetic, but I believe Steinbeck sure was.

In book club when we talked about this, we associated it with the phenomenal Louis CK clip that’s making the rounds, about cell phones, sadness, and being human:

Read it. Love it. Tell me what you think.

Related Post: Americanah + Their Eyes Were Watching God

Related Post: On Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Media

Everything is About Everything: New Media + Old Media

For book club, we recently read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a modern, bromantic, technologically-obsessed, Google-worshipping fantasy adventure in which millennial heroes and heroines are obsessed with the idea of Old Knowledge (aka OK). I’m kind of obsessed with Old Media (OM?), specifically it’s intersection with New Media (NM), and TBD Media (TBDM). I think this is a fascinating question:

OM + NM + TBDM = ?????

The combination of Old Media and New Media happens to be in vogue right now. If OM = books, TV, movies, music and NW = Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogging, etc., we already have lots of neat examples of these things working together. I’m having fun with mind-mapping right now, so….

mind map

Click to Enlarge

  • The Bling Ring – Sofia Coppola’s strange new movie about a band of overprivileged teenagers who break into celebrity homes uses screenshots of Facebook, sequences devoted to the taking of selfies, and texting as avenues to explore the meta “Pics or it didn’t happen” mentality of the youth (self included).
  • House of Cards – Netflix’ original (and now Emmy-nominated) political intrigue-a-thon incorporates on-screen text messages over images of characters in their own locales. Old school political mastermind Frank Underwood uses new school journalist Zoe Barnes to channel her demographic access into viral and conniving campaign messages.
  • Americanah – The new novel from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie  is about a young Nigerian couple who follow separate paths (her to America, him to the UK) before reuniting in Lagos decades later. The protagonist, Ifemelu, writes a blog about race from the perspective of a non-African-American black person that becomes famous. Excerpts from her blog are incorporated into the book, and her online presence is treated as a fundamental piece of identity (as many of us now consider it to be).

The real interesting question, of course, is what happens when OM meets NM meets TBDM. What is TBDM anyway? Well, it’s obviously things we haven’t even created yet. Will our media become more multi-sensory? Will we control the stories we watch or be actors in them? Will the idea of created media devolve so heavily that we’ll all just read/watch real life as it happens a la Truman Show? What do you think?

Related Post: Past experiments with mind mapping

Related Post: Quadrant games!

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Hollywood, Media

Sunday Scraps 76

1.VOTING: Slate has a time lapsed map marking the last 100 years of presidential elections. Oooh, watch the pretty colors change!

2. SMARTS: Atlantic interview with Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd, about his uber famous comic and his new geeky science project, What If?

3. BOOKS: How to pair cocktails with book club books, a guide from Flavorwire. We’re reading Boss in my book club at the moment, which I think requires a Chicago beer that has been purchased in exchange for a couple of votes in a tricky precinct.

4. MAGS: The Daily Beast profiles Vice, a Brooklyn based online and print magazine that uses raunch humor, on-the-ground cheap reporting, and multi-media to try to make millennials care about the world.

5. FOOD: As nutritional labels hit McDonald’s, do consumers care if their lunch is 1,800 calories? Apparently not.

6. WRITING: Words of writerly wisdom from Zadie Smith, whose new book NW I’m very excited to read.

Related Post: Sunday 75: black moms-in-chief, library tattoos, Republican history of America

Related Post: Sunday 74: Emily Dickinson, the end of the Kournikova era, Junot Diaz

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Food, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People