Reading Dilemmas

This is an article that Liz and I wrote together awhile back. It still has good bookish information in it. Liz is in regular font and Eva is in italics.

At the beginning of 2021 I made the resolution to read only fiction this year. My inspiration came from an article about how to choose books to put on your To Be Read list. Looking at my list, I noticed only two types of books. So I decided to apply intention and read a genre I usually didn’t read. I am drawn to nonfiction that leans toward self help or science-y topics, (I love to read about how the brain works!) or true stories of famous people or dramatic events. A couple times a year I’d read a romance to counteract all the heavy stuff. So I made the easy commitment to read only fiction this year.

My goal at the beginning of 2021 (remember I don’t make resolutions) was to read more actual books. I do not like how electronics have taken the place of actual books. It is so easy to read on my phone and not worry about picking up a book. I determined to stop at my library and just walk the aisles. I want my girls to grow up borrowing books from the library. It was so much fun when I was young to stop in at the little library in DeSmet, SD, and look for something interesting to read. That is where I first learned to judge a book by it’s cover. What else is a five year old supposed to go on? I have done better this year with actually reading books. I belong to a book club and I read all those books in actual true book format. No electronics for my book club.

A to-be-read list

First I made a Don’t Read List to remind me to not go with my natural tendencies. This list included the topics of self-help, diet, and marriage and productivity books. But the page was nearly blank after that. I have never made a Don’t Read List. That is an interesting concept. I am afraid as soon as a book was on that list, I would instantly want to read it. Yes, I am a rebel.

My reading has been very hit and miss. I went to the library and checked out books several times. I would read the first chapter and abandon the book. If a book is written in the 50’s or earlier, it promotes good morals and is often a good option. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but libraries go through their books every so often and eliminate a lot of books, mostly books of a generation ago. That means there aren’t a lot of options at the public library for fiction, unless you know the styles of current writers, which I didn’t. Of course, they keep the classics, but although I love a couple of Charles Dickens shorter books, I couldn’t get into Bleak House, and it dampened my interest in trying to get into Great Expectations or Hard Times. I had already read Pride and PrejudiceHere is where we differ on choices. I can hardly get through a book written in the 50’s or before. And Harold Bell Wright or Peter B Kine? Shivers! (I bet we just lost some readers. Maybe I shouldn’t be so honest, right? {or maybe I don’t want good morals?} ) There are some exceptions to this. I have read quite a few of the classics. Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters. John Steinbeck and Robert Louis Stevenson. Jane Austin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And To Kill a Mockingbird! Over and over and over again. I don’t read those books anymore either, Eva, but I certainly used to. Don’t assume we lost some readers. I’m trying to read something different (for me) this year and maybe someone else out there is, too!

How would you suggest I find books? I don’t want to buy books, unless they’re a quarter at the thrift store. I feel I can buy and pass it on at that price. I have only one book I reread, The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. It’s truly a favorite. But it doesn’t make sense to buy a lot of books I am only going to read once. I am a re-reader. I have some authors that I go to like comfort food. Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher and Patrick Taylor are ones I never get tired of. All of the books by these authors are set in either Ireland or Scotland. Maeve Binchy’s books are about true life (in novel form) and aren’t all happily ever after. Rosamunde Pilcher is much more the end-the-book-the-way-I-want-it-to-end type of writer. Patrick Taylor writes about being a doctor in a small town in Ireland. He tells hilarious stories with flare and more than a little crude language. Thankfully, I inherited my grandma’s ability to skip over bad language!

That’s a laugh! How do you do reading out loud? Not sure. I’ve read some Maeve Binchy; they’re usually so long. I like quick reads. I think my attention span is getting shorter. Another type of book I like are ones that go from present day to back in time. One chapter set in the present, the next chapter a hundred years ago. I love seeing how the two stories come together. Kate Morton does an excellent job writing like this. She doesn’t write fast enough for me. As of right now, she only has five books in print and I have loved every single one of them.

Recently I listened to A Pocketful of Rye by Agatha Christie. I thought I was really branching out to read a book by her; I thought they would be too horrific for me. You too? I was totally astounded when I first read her (only about two years ago) to find out that she wrote “scary” stories I could read at night. They are actually in the cozy mystery genre – characterized by little blood, no strong language or sex. I enjoyed it as a sort of background noise while I sewed or cooked or walked. I didn’t want to listen to a whole string of them. But in my search for cozy mysteries, I happened on The Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun. These are better, in my opinion. They are about a journalist who solves mysteries on the side and are full of plays on words, which I enjoy.

And I haven’t kept my resolution at all. In February I read a book with friends and we met to discuss it. It was not fiction but I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to read together. On my book app I have two non-fiction books and one fiction at this moment. Beside the couch I have a book about reading books. I’m hoping to get a few titles to add to my list while reading that. You mentioned the Bronte sisters above and this book mentions them as well. So maybe that will be what I try next. And I will look into Kate Morton’s books, too.

e-Book or real book or audiobook

I have a bone to pick with electronics. They have taken books out of my hand and replaced them with something that has absolutely NO personality. There is no smelling the delicious old book smell on an iPad. When I read on my phone I am easily distracted by a text or email coming in. Yes, I know, it is my choice to read on the iPad or in a true book, but I do miss the days when the only option was a book. No going around with our noses in some app.

What is is about reading on a device that is so different from a real true book? I’m not sure, but it IS different.

What I love about a real book… The weight of the book in my hand. Paperbacks are light and easily tucked into a bag or coat pocket. Hardcovers are clumsy and better suited to reading in my chair. I love the thickness of a book. I can tell exactly where I am at glance. I love the smell of books. Often I stick my nose into them and sniff. We used to have a second hand store called New to You just up the road from us. I still have books from there and they take me back to my childhood every time I smell them. And when I am in a mall or an airport and I see someone pull a book out to read, I always smile. It looks so much neater than looking at an iPad or phone. It just has a studious ‘I don’t care what’s going on around me’ air to it.

You mentioned knowing where you are in a physical book better than in an e-book. That is the part I miss the most when reading on my phone. Not knowing where I am in a story – still on the beginning or getting close to the end. I think it takes more concentration to read a physical book. I also think my brain gets practice in focusing longer and is less distracted once I am ‘into’ the book. I also take what the author says more seriously in a physical book. If he went to the trouble to verify his information and get it printed by a publisher, and other people have invested time in this book, then it’s voice is more powerful than an e-book.

What is good about reading on a device… On a device I can have several books going at once. It is easy to take them with me since they are all contained inside my iPad or phone. It is easy to change books if I lose interest in one I am reading. (This is also a problem. I don’t stick with books as long as I used to. It is too easy to look up a different one.) On a device, I also have the option of an audiobook. These are awesome for driving or mowing the lawn. I love reading a nonfiction book and then later listening to it. I always hear something more than what I read. It’s a great thing to have another way to learn things.

I like to listen to books too but I prefer to listen to fiction. With nonfiction, I often like to have a pen handy for notes, and I like to be able to easily look back to review some connection the author is making. But even with fiction, if it has lots of unusual names or uses foreign words I like to see these words printed. What I like about listening is you can do other stuff while you read – walk, cook, fold laundry.

It’s hard to find books to read. There are options of how to take in the book, making ‘reading’ possible in more situations than ever. But that is part of the fun, too. Sometimes you find a book, sometimes the book finds you. Sometimes you listen while doing other things, sometimes you are sitting quietly and concentrating on the page. There’s no excuse not to have a book in your life.

What have you been reading in lately? Do tell us, please. I love adding to my TBR list.

–Liz and Ev

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