Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

Is reading necessarily the highest use of leisure time?

“I don’t own a television.”

It’s the mantra of many who want to signal their elevation above the unwashed masses who go bananas with excitement at the prospect of a new season of Game of Thrones or Jack Ryan. I had to Google “most popular current television shows” to come up with those two titles. Does that earn me a bit of intellectual gravitas?

The sign of an educated mind today is often marked by testimonies of reading, and reading so many books per month, quarter or year, determined by what the reader thinks is the best period to use as a gauge. Reading it is supposed, is infinitely better than watching television. Anything, it is supposed, is better than watching television. Given that this is a blog dedicated chiefly to the discussion of books, reading, and the vast amount of knowledge to be found as a result, you might assume I am of the mind that reading is ever and always better than watching television.

Disclosure: As I begin this post, America’s Test Kitchen is fading to black on PBS and I am looking forward to next program, Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire. I am a sucker for a good cooking show and PBS spares me offensive commercials. No. I have not killed my TV. It doesn’t get a whole lot of use, at least not for scripted broadcast television shows, but we do have one.

Over dinner tonight we discussed this idea that reading in itself is a higher brow leisure activity.  The general consensus was that yes, it is certainly better than watching television. There was also a general agreement that a lot of people who brag about their lack of television watching spend copious amounts of time watching YouTube videos or arguing on Twitter and Facebook, which is hardly any better. What I really wanted to know however, is if there is more reading taking place, and if so, is it the kind of reading which adds to the metal acuity what television is presumed to take away from it. The answer we came away with was: It depends.

One of our daughters, a history buff if ever there was one, has been watching the documentary series World War II in color. She questioned whether reading one of the latest YA novels would be more advantageous than watching her documentary based solely on the fact that she would be turning pages whether than watching a screen. It’s on this point that I find myself parked.

There is a school of thought among people in general and even some educators that children and teens reading anything is better than if they were reading nothing at all. I am embarrassed to admit that there was a point when I harbored such foolish thoughts as well. Reading is fundamental, after all! Reading is always the best and most effective use of one’s leisure if television is the alternative. Hikes, jogs, nature exploration and the likes are even better, but suburbanites are not always in the position to exercise those options.

However, a cursory glance at the books which are most popular today leaves me with the impression that most are literature’s version of junk food. Books so devoid of depth (of characters as well as language) that many people can read two or three of them a week without missing a beat! Given the relatively common damage to the attention spans of the public at large, it doesn’t take a literature professor to figure out that 300 page books which can be zipped through in one’s spare time after just three days and over 4 hours are probably hamburger to Thackeray’s t-bone steak.

The devolution of reading, which we’ve discussed before, necessitates that certain books demand different levels of engagement than others. In other words, digesting words on a page is technically to read. However when we digest and process ideas, language, and stories that challenge us to think deeply and seek more earnestly the good, the true, and beautiful, then we know that we are really reading.

In short, not all reading is created equal.

Elaboration: Yes, in most cases, reading beats watching television. I know full well most Americans aren’t into PBS cooking shows or WWII documentaries. Including our young adult kids, who are kind of hooked on The Office.

Wait. Is Netflix TV?

 

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joys of reading, the business of books, writing

Why Can’t We Be Friends? the non-review

to read or not to read

While researching reviews of Aimee Byrd’s book, Why Can’t We Be Friends? I was struck with the realization that this is a good opportunity to discuss the things that I consider when deciding whether or not to read and review certain books. Since I have decided not to read this one, it is the perfect conversational springboard.

Most of the books I read and review, I find one of three ways. I stumble upon them in the library, read a riveting analysis of said book, or as is often the case, am reminded that it was one I’d always intended to read but never got around to it. Classics most often fall into the last category.

When a book is generating a lot of buzz and I can’t find it at my local library, I embark on a research expedition. The regrettable experience of spending my beloved’s hard earned money on a book that is best fit for the trash heap is a hard learned lesson. As a result, I do my homework and often find that the homework provides plenty about what I am going to find in the book. This either saves both my time and money from being wasted, or heightens my anticipation of curling up with that book.

The former is what happened when I started poking around for some insight on Why Can’t We Be Friends? Most of the reviews were positive, but in ways that only served to solidify my initial skepticism. They were long, wieldy and confusing, explored the book in multiple parts, or otherwise worked to further entrench me into my position. Thankfully, I ran across an article at The Federalist which directed me toward the author’s previously published and readily available words on the subject.

In essence, Mrs. Byrd has written so many articles and blog posts laying out her case for why Christian men and women -regardless of marital status- should be able to have close, personal, even intimate friendships (“sacred siblings” she calls it), that reading her book would have been an exercise in redundancy. The book was an expansion of and explanation of ideas presented in those articles. As a result, I felt no need to purchase, read, or review the book.

This was a good reminder to me that while it is important and vital for any aspiring writer to write, write often, and generate exposure for her writing, it isn’t a good idea to base any potentially publishable work on a conglomeration of ideas that have already been shared and disseminated far and wide. Why should people buy a book that includes ideas and information that I have already shared repeatedly?

Another way I decide which books to read or not is on the basis of a recommendation or down vote from a trusted source.  By that I mean a source that I trust. There have been books I was considering then decided not to read because someone who knows me well gave me a full and complete idea of what it is, and why it’s not worth my time or attention.

Lastly, there are books I read but don’t review for myriad reasons. One of those reasons is because I didn’t finish it.  When a book is taking me an eternity to complete and I constantly find myself picking up other books to give me a break from that book, I conclude that it’s probably not a book for me. That could mean it’s a bad book worthy of a negative review, but if I didn’t finish it I never know if it finally came together in a satisfying way.  This potential for recovery and success is more likely in fiction than nonfiction of course, and is another reminder to me to keep thoughts and ideas cohesive when I write.

Another reason I may not review it is because the ideas are either so personal or so big that I feel it is best not to open a blog discussion about it. Rather, my time with that book is best spent by pondering its ideas privately or with those in my inner circle. That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I’m sure there are as many times that I’ve skipped books I may have enjoyed as there are times I read books that felt like a waste of time. In either case, I try to be deliberate and informed before I read any book that I intend to review in this space. This process of mine is obviously far from scientific, but there is some level of method to the madness here.

How do you decide which books you will read?

 

joys of reading, philosophy

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Because this post interconnects very closely with my most recent post on the different approaches readers can take when sitting down with a book, I’m sharing it here.

Lewis’ depth of thought certainly gives me, as an avid reader, something to think about. For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?

joys of reading, philosophy

To Savor or Devour?

My, how time flies!

Nearly two years ago, I planted this link in the comment section of one my earliest posts with the intention of returning to it as an impetus for discussion with fellow book lovers.  From Aeon, a thoughtful piece on the history of the metaphors comparing reading to eating, titled Is ‘devouring’ books a sign of superficiality in a reader?:

The language of eating is often used to describe reading habits. If pressed for an explanation, one might say that to ‘devour’ books is to do something positive.

It implies intense appreciation on behalf of the reader, and suggests that books in themselves are enjoyable and delicious, like warm pastries.

This metaphor, however, hasn’t always seemed so benign. Two hundred years ago, describing someone as ‘devouring’ a book would have been an act of moral censure.

Indeed, before I discovered this short history lesson, I would have stated unequivocally that devouring a book is a positive thing. Of course, that was my off the cuff response, one offered without much forethought. As I have further considered the implications of devouring a book, I realize that some texts are to be savored rather than devoured in the same way as some foods are to be savored rather than devoured.

For instance yesterday, I splurged for Sunday dinner, bought a duck and prepared this recipe. It was definitely a dish to be savored, one where appreciating the layers of flavors and textures was warranted. It was not only good, but decadent. To eat it in a rush would be to diminish the effort, not to mention the expense, that I put into preparing it.

One of my other favorite meats is bacon. I fry it up at least 3 days a week, but I am often hastening to fulfill all of my morning duties which begin most days before 5:30. Breakfast is sometimes reduced to snatching up a couple of pieces of bacon as I pass the plate in the kitchen and sip my constantly reheated morning cup of Joe. The bacon, as much as I enjoy it, is usually devoured rather than savored. The bacon is, for all intents and purposes, common.

Common things can be wonderful, but we don’t treat them the way we would things we only enjoy on rare occasions, and the same can be said of the ideas and content we encounter in books. I was able to devour Their Eyes Were Watching God as an adult in part because I was re-reading it. Also, regardless of the fact that it was written by an author I have deep affection for, it was still fiction. Fiction can offer big ideas worthy of contemplation and reflection and often does, but I can safely ‘devour’ most of it.

The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of ‘devouring’ idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished.

For millennia, reading’s connection to eating has reflected its centrality to social power and responsibility. Some of the oldest reading images have their roots in the Bible: Ezekiel and John, for instance, literally eat manuscripts during divine visions, representing their role as revelatory agents. This idea of the reader as a mediator of knowledge has had longstanding cultural resonance.

Readers are only impoverished to the extent that we don’t appropriately process what we are reading. The references to Biblical prophets and prophecies is an apt one. Few would disagree with the sentiment that when reading sacred texts or tomes based on the values and implications of our sacred texts, savoring is definitely the right approach. When we are hiding truths in our hearts, we need to examine them carefully.

In contrast to the voracious and relatively quick pace at which I read Watching, I was far more deliberate, contemplative, and meditative while reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. These were ideas and words to be savored because there were, within those pages, eternal truths which I want to carry with me as long as I live. The Aeon piece touches on this distinction:

Renaissance reader-scholars developed a conviction that not all reading was equal. While their eating imagery sometimes distinguished between kinds of books (as in Francis Bacon’s adage that ‘[s]ome books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed’), first and foremost it distinguished between different kinds of readers. The ancient conception of the social significance of reading now found expression as the ethical obligation to respond well to texts.

Ultimately, this is where I fall on the question of devouring books. It’s not always a bad thing, but neither is it always a good thing. It depends on what we are reading and why. The Aeon piece goes a little bit further. Take the time and finish it if you can. It’s not very long.

What is your general approach to reading and books? Devour, Savor, or both?

 

joys of reading, the business of books, Uncategorized

Kindle strikes again.

I am an avid library patron. I try more often than not to read books with pages, patronize bookstores, and generally be a good little bibliophile. Books are important. Despite imagining myself fighting the good fight against a digital takeover of reading for myself and for my kids, I just – like 5 minutes ago- downloaded My Man Jeeves onto my Kindle for 0.99. I am not beyond a great deal.

I recently re-blogged posts (here and here) which illustrate the education I’ve been obtaining on Amazon’s book sales pricing and practices. There is definitely cause to pause and consider alternatives to Amazon when purchasing books. I’ve been more careful about taking those things into consideration. I even bought a Barnes and Noble membership which isn’t a complete waste because I buy almost all of our kids’ assigned literature books from Barnes and Noble to the tune of about 12 books a year.

Nevertheless, I own a Kindle. Kindle makes it very easy to download and store a boat load of books at reasonable prices, which makes it very easy to open it, shop, and click my way to a great read in a convenient and inexpensive format.  I often find good books there for free, such as a book I recently reviewed, Miss Maitland Private Secretary.

The downside is that is very easy to nickel and dime my way to spending too much on books when it would be easier to go to the library and check them out. Thankfully, my genuine love of the library creates a very low risk of that happening. When it comes to the value of local libraries, I am a true believer. As such, I rarely purchase a book to download on the Kindle more than once a month.

My Kindle library still isn’t as big as my physical library, but the ease with which I can amass books to read later means the Kindle library could rival the book shelf in the near future. Ease of use, an extensive list of titles and rock bottom prices makes it easier to buy books from Amazon.

I always buy our kids books with physical pages to turn, or check them out from the library because the last thing they need at this point is another screen, even if it’s for a good use such as reading good books. That also keeps me in libraries and books stores more often than I might be if we encouraged them to read digital books. However, I am not a paper book purist, nor even on an all out boycott of Amazon books. I do however, like to consider these things when I spend my money.

This bibliographic stream of consciousness brought to you courtesy of Kindle, My Man Jeeves, and the fact that I am a sucker for a 0.99 book, which together inspired these thoughts.

joys of reading, nonfiction, novels

Celebrate the Classics!

Celebrate the Classics: Why You Can and Should Read the Great Books (Xist Classics) by [Lee, Calee M.]

Celebrate the Classics: Why You Can and Should Read the Great Books, by Calee M. Lee. Free on Kindle.

I realize this isn’t on my list of books in the queue. What can I say? Old habits die hard. In any event, it isn’t really a book. It’s more accurately categorized as an essay, as I was able to read the whole thing in about 45 minutes last night. The lion’s share of its remaining pages are composed of book lists and potential book club discussion pages, most of which I skipped. The author begins with a funny quote attributed to Mark Twain:

“Classic” is a book which people praise but don’t read.

With that in mind, Calee Lee sets out to make the case that the praise of  certain books, which has lasted for generations, is exactly the reason why we need to consider picking one up. The essay lists several reasons why we should read (or in many cases re-read) classic books. Among them:

Classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.

Anyone who has re-read a classic and loved it despite having found it a drudgery and a torture in high school can attest to the validiy of this.

Classic books give the sense of re-reading something we have read before even if we are reading it for the first time.

This was my experience when I recently read the excellent J.M. Barrie classic, Peter Pan. This happens of course because one of the marks of a classic is that it’s imprinted indelibly in the narrative of a people and culture, being remade and referenced so often that we already know the story. Or at least, we think we do.

Classic books never exahust all that they has to say to their readers.

The Bible, of course, is the ultimate illustration of this truism. It is also true of classic novels as well, albeit to a lesser degree. The nuances, quirks, and familiar foibles of human nature spring anew from the pages of Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility every time I read them.

Those are just a few of the points made in the e-book, Celebrate the Classics. I also think it’s wonderful that the author’s independent publishing company has an entire promotional push to encourage and invite readers to recapture, or in some cases discover, the beauty of classic literature.

I appreciate the fact that she kept it succinct and to the point rather than filling hundreded of pages with exemporaneous words when a short exposition would do.

Grade: B+

Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, just for fun, Uncategorized

Deciding when to purchase hard copy vs. digital books

Image result for book vs kindle images

Not all books are created equally, and by extension, we make judgements about how we want to invest our time and treasure into the books we consider reading.

I recently found myself making the decision to forgo purchasing a Kindle download of a book that I want to read when it is released on May 8th. The temptation to do so was strong, because acquiring it via Kindle means I could read it during our fast approaching vacation.

However, upon further thought, I decided that this particular book was one I preferred to own in hard copy so that it would be around for years to come. Digital, despite our heavy cultural and occupational dependence on it, is quite fragile.Ask anyone who has lost a treasure trove of digitally stored photgraphs!

Despite the ease of being able to carry thousands of books around with us in one digital device, hard copy books are sometimes worth the expense and the attendant sacrificing of real estate on the book shelf.

It often seems implausible to us in this technological age of easy access to information, but there have been many books written about, movies filmed depicting, and periods in history when unapproved books or literature were sought out for destruction as dangerous to possess. The book I am purchasing doesn’t appear to be remotely at risk of ever being such a book. Nevertheless, it is one that I believe is worth having in hard copy rather than digital. So, I’ll have to wait an extra week before I can order it.

Other books, such as Miss Maitland Private Secretary, are definitely for my reading purposes, best purchased in digital format or borrowed from the library. As enjoyable as it was, it didn’t rise to the level of a book to build a library with in the way novels such as Jane Eyre, Peter Pan, or If Beale Street Could Talk might.

As I considered these questions I thought of the number of books I’ve read as part of Christian mommy book clubs or must read magazine lists that I later wished I had borrowed from the library or purchased in a cheaper, less cluttery format. There are still several of them on my bookshelves, just waiting to be donated.

This thought exploration made me curious how many readers here make similar disticntions when purchasing books. How do you decide which ones are worth buying in hard copy form for your personal  library,which ones are worth buying the digital downloads, and which are best borrowed from the library?

Picture credit, Tim Challies, whose linked article dovetails with this one.