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Archive for the month “August, 2014”

A few weekly highlights on books

What you may have missed lately in the reading world!

  • Here is a fantastic read if you happen to be following the Hachette and Amazon debacle. I see a novel down the road…In any case, you can read Amazon’s manifesto, er, I mean, plea to readers on Readers United to subtly attack Hachette, even though Amazon is also clearly picking a fight.
  • Libraries STILL Rule! What do libraries have over e-books? Selection. The print vs. e-book war is not far from over, but this article still gives me hope that the two formats can live side-by-side.
  • A thought to ponder on historical fiction… I’m currently reading “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon and loving it, I might add. But I’ve encountered one sticking point that gets in my craw in nearly every historical fiction novel I read: The bathroom problem. For Elizabeth Gilbert, her irk is lusty 19th century broads whose only merit is their appearance, and for me it’s the bathroom problem, especially in time travel novels. If you are accustomed to fancy modern day indoor plumbing and take it for granted that you can poop in peace and wipe with handy tissue, I think you would notice when that is taken away. So many books that place their main characters in dangerous, unfamiliar settings fail to mention this issue. I’m not saying you have to get graphic and go into drastic detail of a woman who suddenly encounters the necessity of peeing in the open as her only option, but it should be mentioned. At the very least, the author is presenting his/her character with a conflict and seeing what happens. It’s a realistic aspect to add to a character study, and I’m always frustrated when the detail is plainly ignored! Ok, I’ll step down from soapbox now.
  • And lastly, the Central Library here in Los Angeles is hosting an event combining some of my favorite things: Books, theatre, old films, and French! If you are from the area and care to explore this Thursday 8/21, check out the Aloud! Series featuring a rare screening of Great Actresses of the Past with live music accompaniment.



Agree to disagree… on books.

As much as I love to talk about books on my blog and with other book lovers, I must admit that I am loathe to be asked “What book are you reading?” by a stranger on the elevator or while waiting in line. I know it’s idle chit-chat, or someone just passing the time, or another fellow book lover in disguise wanting to connect, but when I’m caught off guard like that I get nervous. I’m mostly nervous about the book I’m holding and what that person will think the title says about me. I understand that I shouldn’t care, but I just do. What if they’ve read it and they proceed to tell me how much they hated it and have a slightly disdainful look in their eye at my choice? It’s happened before. And I’m caught in the middle of a dilemma: yes, this person has a right to his or her opinion and so do I. But what if it’s a book I really love and I suddenly have to defend my choice?

I absolutely believe that there should be differing opinions among book lovers about the same book. The most successful of my book club meetings were the ones where things got very divided and very heated (champagne was flung and voices were raised at one event). Still, I’m curious and perplexed as to the reason why when I completely fall in love with a book and a fellow book clubber- one who even has similar taste in books- has the opposite reaction, or vice versa.

For example, I thought “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn was one of the best spins on the modern mystery genre I have read in long time. A friend in book club hated its guts! I found “One Thousand White Women” by Jim Fergus to be a total waste of my time and then I read today that another Goodreads friend just gave it 5 stars. After reading “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant a few years back, I proclaimed it to be one of the most important and poignant reads for women. I still have yet to meet anyone else who has read it to claim that he or she found it as thrilling or profound as I did.

Is it just me? Or is it them? When you are so divided- love it or hate it- on a book, where does the criteria fall? Now, I understand that I’ve started to judge books more harshly than I ever have before. Part of it is that I’m looking at literature in a new way, since I joined a book club and have taken to read a variety of genres, and another part of me just got tired of reading crap. However, I will go ahead and rate a book 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads if it simply filled me joy, even though it might not be anyone’s idea of a literary tour de force.

But why do I still get that shaky feeling in my stomach, as if I’ve already failed, when I encounter someone who either loved or hated a book that I, contrariwise, felt so strongly about. When I saw that “One Thousand White Women” was given 5 stars, I instantly thought to myself, “How did I miss the boat? What is she seeing that I’m not?”. I find it fascinating that two people can have such completely different experiences reading the same story, yet it’s also disappointing. We can both share our joy or disgust over it, but we will never sit on absolute common ground.

I don’t like to judge others on his or her reading tastes because books we love or read often cut close to our souls. I wish there was a perfect response to the “What are you reading?” questions. Next time I spot someone on his or her way to lunch, clutching a book that I may have read or want to read, perhaps the best method is: “I see you are reading XXX. I, too, have read it. May I approach?” Or maybe I’m reading (ha!) too much into things, as usual. After all, there are worse things to fight over. I’d much rather have a spirited conversation over books than politics any day!

Do people buy books as gifts anymore?

I read recently that book buying as gifts is down in the UK. Made me wonder, though, when was the last time I received a book as a gift?

I come from a long line of book lovers. My step-mom once told me to STOP buying books and book gift cards for my dad for Christmas and his birthday because she could now use the stacks of hardcovers in the “to read” pile as a second coffee table if need be. I loved getting books for presents, especially from those select few family members who really knew what I liked. To this day me, my grandmother and aunt have an ongoing book sharing circle that’s spanned about 20 years. Through this sort of “book re-gifting” program we’ve set up I’ve discovered now-beloved authors, such as Kate Atkinson and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Book sharing and books as presents has sometimes been the best way for me to discover new writers.

The other day I bought my grandmother a book for her 89th birthday. I found it off of a Huffington Post article about bestselling books from the 1920s  and I chose the selection “The Keeper of Bees” from her birth year, 1925. I ordered it through Amazon and had it sent directly to her. There wasn’t a place to add a note if I wasn’t specifically marking it as a gift, so I knew the book would arrive without much fanfare; just innocently wrapped in its cardboard sheath. We take a big leap of faith when we send a book, especially one unread by the sender, to someone else. I want my grandmother to love her new gift because I put some thought into picking it out, but books are so subjective to the reader.

Whenever I received a book as a gift, I knew it came from a special place. Either the giver had read it before and wanted to share that joy with me, or it was given as an opportunity to learn something new. My new book present was never to be treated lightly and was expected to be treasured (even if I didn’t end up liking it). Are we losing this longtime tradition of book giving? You can give a Kindle as a gift, but can’t necessary give the person “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt or A Game of Thrones series.

If books are a form of love and we aren’t giving books as gifts anymore, where does that love go?

Please share here if you still give books as gifts and if so, what was the last book you gave to someone or received?

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