What not to read

Recently, the blog team was presented with an article by Maria Popova that contains an interesting quote:

“Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught.”

~ from How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard

This led to a lively discussion of what we read, what we don’t read, why we choose or don’t choose certain titles. It’s an interesting topic and something I think about frequently. But I’d never considered not reading to be a choice.

The idea that by choosing not to read certain books one will be protected from drowning (presumably beneath a menacing flood of literature) intrigues me. As a person who spends most days besieged by the bursting bounty of books in the library, I am keenly aware of the perils embodied by this tumultuous torrent of tomes. So too am I aware of the debilitating reading disorder that plagues me and many others, causing us to throw common sense out the metaphorical window and to check out far too many books in a single go. This pestilence on our land, most commonly known as bibliorrhea, is a disease recognizable by the sufferer’s reading eyes being decidedly larger than his or her ample reading stomach, leaving plates and plates of unread or unfinished materials.

Hence the need for a method of whittling down the teetering stacks of books in my office to a manageable pile. So I undertake the largely unconscious task of choosing what not to read.

. Here are the written rules I tend to follow in selecting books.

I seldom read non-fiction. In my formative years non-fiction tended to be as dry as a desiccant pack in the Mojave Desert.

Follows the rule: Hedy’s Folly: The Life And Breakthrough Inventions Of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman In The World by Richard Rhodes sounds absolutely fascinating, telling how actress and beauty icon Hedy Lamarr invented technology which was later used in cell phones and other devices. Who knew? However, the writing style of this book did not engage me (this tends to be my issue with non-fiction) and I quickly put it down.

Is an exception: Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz is a wonderful non-fiction book that looks at the effects of the Civil War which still permeate American thought and behavior, especially in the south. This non-fiction book is an exception to my rule.

Writing style is important. I generally do not like the prose employed in best-selling fiction.

Follows the rule: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, one of the most wildly-popular books in recent memory, is definitely not aimed at my age-group and gender, but still I found the text to be quite repetitive and unreadable, taking tens of pages to unfold a plot that could have been revealed in a single page or sentence. I was not able to complete this book due to annoyance with the writing style.

Is an exception: Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler is a thrilling thriller involving Viking runes, Nemo’s Nautilus, the Red Baron and countless other twists and turns. I consider Cussler’s best-sellers to be guilty pleasures that I do not want to admit to reading but secretly enjoy.

Dense or archaic language is difficult for me to enjoy. I prefer an easy read.

Follows the rule: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens is a certified classic that I couldn’t read if my life depended on it. The language of Dickens’ England requires tremendous mental prowess to untangle, leaving me exhausted and searching for a Harlequin romance. Dickens may be a god among authors, but I remain an atheist.

Is an exception:

The Tetherballs of Bougainville by Mark Leyner is a book that defies description, filled with surreal run-on sentences that continue for pages, plot turns that don’t particularly make sense, and language that a diamond couldn’t penetrate. Yet somehow the result is freakishly enjoyable.

So there you have a little peek into the process I undertake when deciding which books to read and what not to read.

Next month the blog team will discuss, for your enjoyment, some titles that we will not read, cannot finish, or wish to destroy in excruciating fashions, along with justifications for our feelings and actions. It’s all in good fun, but at the same time this discussion might help us better understand our reading motivations, to venture into uncharted reading territories, and to discover an unexpected gem here and there along the way.

Be sure to visit A Reading Life for more reviews and news of all things happening at the Everett Public Library.

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