A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

This year I set a goal to read a book a month, which seems pretty wimpy considering that I used to read a book a week in my college and grad school years.

But the thing about reading now, as opposed to then, is that now I am reading for me, for my own edification, curiosity, and pleasure, and not to write a paper about the book.

In college I didn’t so much read, as process books into papers. Armed with a pen, I would take copious notes on thematic approaches, character development, and how this novel might illustrate the philosophy of Aristotle or Nietzche. I was on the hunt for the meaning in those books, and also to be able to manufacture enough verbal garbage to fill up 10 double-spaced pages.

If, god forbid, I got to the end of a novel and I didn’t have a thesis statement and a rough paragraph plan for a paper, I knew I was totally screwed.

Even back then I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with these books. Even back then I knew this was a travesty. I longed to let those books marinate, to seep into my psyche, into my life, my soul. I wanted to enjoy them, and understand them, not dissect them like a frog.

But I couldn’t. There was no time. I had a list, a syllabus, other classes to deal with. I couldn’t muse about anything. There was no time to let a book rattle around in my brain for a while, because hot on the heels of one book, was yet another one to be read and “papered.”

When I think back to all the classic Lit. I read between the ages of 16 and 23, I could positively weep. I was too young for Tristram Shandy, for the Red and the Black for Anna Karenina for Ulysses.

I couldn’t even maneuver my car onto the turnpike let alone follow Leopold Bloom around Dublin for a thousand pages.

Now that I am free of academia, I long to go back and re-read everything I read there. Nabokov said that the best reader, the only good reader, is the re-reader, but do I want to start over again? Now? At this late date? I don’t have that much life left, and even if I did, do I really want to go back and re-read the classics? I am out of shape for iambic pentameter. I’d have to work back up to Shakespeare, to Proust. I no longer have the attention span for the semi-colon. I twitter now.

But one thing I have become painfully aware of in the last few months is that, probably due to all that reading of classic Lit in my “childhood” I have become an insufferable literary snob. I expect a lot from books. I may not have gone deep into the classics, but I went wide enough to know what real artistry is, and I know how to appreciate it.

Funny, I am not this picky about any other art: not music, not painting, not theater. But when it comes to books, I have my standards; I make demands.

I expect structure and voice and poetry and beautifully articulated ideas. I want to be lured down the rabbit hole of a book and feel happy to live in that world  for a long, long time.

I don’t pay attention to themes or motifs or character development or (god forbid) meaning anymore, all I want from a book is to learn something new about the world, and possibly a new way to look at my life.

Even though I am not consciously on the lookout for theme and motif anymore, I still care about them. I still care about character development and pacing and poetry. And I especially care about those delicious silences built in between the words, and the way when things are left out, that makes all the remaining things glow.

I am not often disappointed in anything I read nowadays because one, I don’t read much, and two, my policy is if I get to page 3 and I am not entranced, I will close the book and quietly donate it to the library’s book sale. I don’t waste my time on anything that doesn’t thrill me. And this is why I call myself a snob.

I am a snob because I don’t want to be disappointed, and for that reason I tend to limit myself to Pen/Faulkner Award winners, National Book award winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners. (And yoga books, good and bad.)

I get all squinty-eyed and smirky-faced when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller list, especially when it is littered with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.

But recently I have read and really enjoyed “Bestsellers” in both the fiction and non-fiction categories that friends have recommended. I found Haruki Murakami on a friend’s recommendation, for example

Recently Emily (my daughter) said she was reading Gone Girl so I picked it up just to see, and got sucked down its rabbit hole. I admired Gillian Flynn’s storytelling, and especially how meticulously crafted her story was, and was flabbergasted when I saw her picture on the back cover. So young!  I could not believe someone that young could craft such a remarkable book.

The book I am reading now, Quiet, is also on the Non-fiction bestseller list (NYTimes) but for some reason I don’t feel as embarrassed reading bestseller non-fiction. Is this just being snobbish? I don’t know.

I recently ordered Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (the 2012 National Book Award winner) so I can compare it to Gone Girl in terms of its artistry. I really wouldn’t mind being called out on my snobbery if Gone Girl holds up against The Round House.

All I know is that I love living in someone else’s dream, in their word world. I love the interiority of reading, the listening inside that it requires. It’s such a relief to have the voice in my head not be my own for a while.

This winter has been especially long, and tiring, and dreary, but I have been consoled immeasurably by the books I have read. I am happy I have mustered the self control to put down the IPad for awhile and let my brain marinate in books. I feel nourished in a new way already, and it’s only the end of March.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read since January.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Worlk that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Have you read anything lately that has made you feel nourished? Care to share?

Sitting on the couch, reading.

So just in time for Spring Break, I am battling some kind of upper respiratory thing. (greaaaat..) Nothing like a garbage-y cough and a woozey head to start the weekend.

My first day of Facebook-less-ness went off without a hitch. Don’t even miss it.

It was so easy, I gave up Pinterest, too. I am checking my email and reading blogs on my Google Reader, and that’s it.

This morning I  thought about hitting up Wegmans for some organic goodness , but truly did not feel up to it, so I finished my February book instead, and started and almost finished my March one.

My March book is a rogue read that infiltrated into my pile as a result of hearing an interview with the author on Buddhist Geeks.

I HATE strength training with every (muscle) fiber of my being, but this guy’s book is about making strength training a contemplative practice, so my interest was mucho piqued.

As I’ve been lying on the couch all day reading this book (yummmmm…..) my predominant thought has been: this is YOGA!  This is how I strive to do my practice. Everything he is saying about strength training could just as well be applied to yoga. What he does with weights is what I do on my mat. So why did it never occur to me that I could bring the yogic mindset to weight lifting????

It’s a very cool book, but man, it could have really used an editor. Reading his sentences is like driving on rumble-strips. Some people have no “ear” for the flow of idea-music, ever notice that? But his content is solid, so I am putting up with the atonal, mind-jarring style.

Tonight we turn the clocks ahead. It’s only 8 PM as I write this and I’ve already done it. I love this time of year. I don’t understand Daylight Savings Time AT ALL, and it’s not something I seek to understand. I just accept it as part of the predominant cultural wackiness.  All I know is that tomorrow at 6:30 PM we will have the same light as today at 5:30 PM, and that is just fine with me!  Let the light shine!

People complain that they lose an hour’s sleep.  Really? Really?? C’mon. Let’s be honest, here. Don’t you just sleep until you wake up? It’s Sunday, afterall. No place to go, really. Just sleep in, people. Quit your bellyaching!  It’s almost SPRING!!

Foisting Books on People

I really don’t want to be a foister, but I am.  I am reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin at the moment and all I want to do is buy 20 copies and give them to people, press it into their hands with that annoying, desperate pleading in my eyes and say, “Pleeeeze!  You simply MUST read this!!”

And I’m not even finished it yet; I’m only on page 120.  This is such an important book (I believe), it’s about becoming indispensable.  Like all his books, it’s brilliant, super easy to read, and so very RIGHT!

Here are a few of my underlinings:

“The job is not your work; what you do with your heart and soul is the work.” (p.97)

“When you have a boss, your job is to please the boss, not to change her. It’s okay to have someone you work for, someone who watches over you, someone who pays you. But the moment you treat that person like a boss, like someone in charge of your movements and your output,  you are a cog, not an artist.”

And here is what linchpins (aka indispensable people) do:

“They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money. They do more than they’re paid to, on their own, because they value quality for its own sake, and they want to do good work. They need to do good work.  Anything less feels intellectually dishonest, and like a waste of time.” (p. 36)

The whole book is about doing emotional labor, work from the heart, work that goes beyond what’s required.

It’s a great book and you should read it!  Now! Today!  Go on Amazon and order it! If you can’t afford it, I’ll buy it for you, just let me know.

And here I am being a “foister” and I really hate foisters.  When someone tells me that I have to read something, I feel this icky pressure, particularly if I know, love and respect the person.

It’s just that we might not have the same interests, the same taste in books.  The person foisting also might not understand  that I have a STACK *this high* of books already queued up, waiting for some time to open up to get to, and their recommendation is just adding to the pressure of that stack.

But all that being said, if you want to be indispensable? If you want to live in a world where people are going the extra mile in their lives and in their work? If you’ve ever experienced first-hand a person who makes a business simply because they give so much more than they  have to, who are emotionally invested in their jobs and in their life? If you want the recipe for this?  Linchpin by Seth Godin

(Sorry for the foist.)

Books That Changed My Life #1

I listened to the This American Life podcast the other day and the theme was “Books That Changed My Life.”

(Ira Glass, the host, thought it was a rather unusual idea that a book could change a person’s life. Whatever, Ira.)

Not me.  Oh no. There have been many books that have completely changed the trajectory of my life.

The first one I thought of (but maybe not the first one that changed my life) was Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan.

I think it was 1976.  I was a senior in college.  I don’t even remember where I bought this book.  The college bookstore?  Walden Books at the Mall?  Who knows.

All I remember was taking it out every afternoon, spreading an old beach towel on the green shag carpet of the house I was living in, and doing it.  28 days in a row without a miss.

The blonde model on the cover wore a leotard and tights (with feet).  The illustrations were in black and white.  Each day there were a few exercises (yeah, he called them “exercises” not “asanas”), followed by a little one page “Thought for the Day.”  And then there were these words:

Do not do any additional Yoga exercising today.

Really?? This was revolutionary.  That a book about something good for you would not advocate doing it as much as possible and as hard as you could for as long as you could, was a totally novel concept to me.  And kinda crazy.  And intriguing.

Why wasn’t I allowed to do any more today?  Would something bad happen if I did more of these yoga exercises in one day?  I wasn’t going to take any chances.  I obeyed.  And everyday I came back for more.

I think it was that mandatory stop that kept me curious, interested, and hungry.  (I once heard about a Guinness World Record holder who ate an entire Volkswagon.  He did it by swallowing one little piece a day.)

That Hittleman book hooked me on yoga.  It also revealed to me an essential piece of my basic nature: as long as I can do something a little bit every day, and not have to swallow a whole big thing in one gulp, I could learn yoga, or eat a Volkswagon.

The “B” Word

There was a time in my life when I only read “The Great Books.” (Classical literature by philosphers, poets and essayists—i.e. dead white guys.)

There was a time in my life when I read poetry.  Exclusively.  Nothing else would do.  (This jag went on for about 4 years.)

There was a time in my life that the only thing that interested me was fiction. Classical. New. Everything in between.  If it wasn’t a story, I wasn’t interested.

There was a time in my life when only new-age self-development books would do. (I’m kinda still in this stage, but I’ve definitely graduated out of pop-psychey things like: I’m O.K. You’re O.K (blech, wince.)

I’ve read Rumi and Hafiz.  I’ve read the Bhagvad Gita in multiple translations. I’ve read big chunks of the Mahabarata and the Ramayana.  I’ve read the Bible and the Torah and the Koran.  I’ve read Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Now though, I’m on a whole new jag that rather baffles me: Business books.  Business books??? Yeah.  Go figure.

But not business books like: How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.  No, no.  Business books about the NEW business paradigm.  Ethical, socially responsible businesses.  Businesses that come into being as a result of someone asking the question: “How can I help?” Or “Can I help?” And then building a business to answer that question.

It’s what I want to do with my business.  (When I say “my business” my face sorta squinches up though, because I never think of what I’m doing as a “business,” but that’s precisely why I am so interested in reading the stuff I’m now obsessed with.)

These kind of new business models are “squinch-less,” “ick-less” if you will.  I don’t have to hold my nose and apologize, or put an asterisk after the “B” word to explain that I am not THAT kind of “B”, I’m THIS kind of “B.”

Here are the last 3 books I downloaded into my Kindle:

All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin  (I think that completes it.  I now have the whole Godin oeuvre.)

Rules of Thumb by Alan Webber

and, not yet available in Kindle edition, but soon, so I had to buy the dead tree version

Trust Agents by Chris Brogan

Good Stuff.