Lost in a Good Book

I almost forget how much I love good, imaginative fiction until I’m immersed in it.  I’m an intense reader of novels, happy to suspend reality for the sake of the words on the page.  I like to read novels from start to finish in one sitting, if possible, and resent interruptions like eating, sleeping, or people wanting to talk to me.  It’s an affliction I’ve had since childhood.

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of it.  The latest Jasper Fforde novel was waiting for me at the library.  I rode my bike down to pick it up, then spent the rest of the day reading, with a short break to attend the student-parent-teacher conferences.  I’ll be honest, I skipped talking to the math teacher because the line to see her was too long, and who needs to talk to the gym teacher anyway.

(When my children were little, I often read short stories because I could complete them in a short nap or evening.)

I never forget my love of reading.  I’m almost always in the middle of a book, but over the past several years, I’ve been reading more non-fiction than fiction.  Primarily, it’s because there are so many things I want to know more about.  I’ll read anything that strikes my fancy, but I go back time and again to history.  I love memoirs of various sorts, holocaust memoirs and memoirs of expatriate childhoods topping the list.  I like to read about the social sciences, what we’ve learned about the human brain, and personality.  Although my grasp of it is limited, I even enjoy reading about science, but, honestly, it needs to be dumbed down for me.

Another reason I favor non-fiction is that I have trouble finding novels that engross me.

I’m picky about fiction.  I read some sad non-fiction, so I like my fiction to be a bit lighter.  However, I am not interested in anything that would be shelved in the romance section, or most of what is termed chick-lit.  Or horror stories.  Or Christian fiction.  Or mystery series.  Or anything with graphic descriptions of violence, crimes, sex, or that has too much foul language.  Or serious historical fiction in which the main characters are actual historically significant figures for whom the author has made up dialogue, relationships, or events.  (I’d rather read non-fiction.)

I enjoy fantasy, but need believable characters.  If the people seem real, no circumstance is too absurd.  If the characters are flat, the reading feels like drudgery to me.  Also, I want to like the main character.

See?  Picky.  I’ve just eliminated well over half of the books published each year.  More than likely, I’ve eliminated over 90%.

My reading habits are unusual enough that I’m nervous when a woman I barely know gushes to me about how, since I like to read, they’re sure I’d love the whatever-the-current-craze-is books, or they can’t believe I haven’t read their favorite mystery or romance series and should really give it a try, and what have I read that’s good lately.  I don’t mind that their tastes are different than my own; I enjoy hearing people speak enthusiastically about their own reading.  You learn a lot about people that way, and sometimes I do hear about books I’d like.

It’s the inevitable what are you reading question that makes me nervous.

When I answer honestly that I’m reading a biography of Stanley, the conversation tends to go:  “Stanley who?”   “Stanley, the explorer, the one who mapped the interior of Africa and is famous for saying, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume.'”  “Oh, you read serious books.  I just read for fun.”  Conversation about books is over.

Of course, I read for fun, too, but I don’t seem to meet a lot of women who agree that reading biographies is fun, unless they are celebrity biographies, which, you’ve probably guessed, I rarely read (earlier this year, I did read a book about Hedy Lamar, who invented the technology that made cell phones possible).

If I want to continue the conversation, I try to think of a book I’ve read recently which might be closer to the other person’s tastes.  Or, I say, “I like to read children’s fiction,” which is true.  They might think it odd, but not in a snobby way.  If they have children, they might even ask for recommendations, which I’m happy to give.

I care how people react because I love talking about books.  I don’t want to offend or discourage anyone from talking to me about what they are reading.  I want to hear about their books, even if they aren’t something I’d read.

Yes, it is more fun to talk about books in common, which is why I started a book club a couple years ago with a young friend.  Even when the book is not one I’d have read otherwise, I enjoy discussing it with other readers.  Sometimes the books nobody liked make for the liveliest discussions.

The best way, though, to have a meaningful book discussion, is to convince your family members to read books you like.  That’s why, as soon as I’d finished yesterday’s novel, I passed it to my son, who is also hooked on Jasper Fforde.  That’s why I show my husband every book I pick up from the library, in case one of them piques his interest, too (Stanley did).  That’s one of the reasons why I still read children’s novels, so I can have the pleasure of hearing my daughter’s take on them.

What about you?  What do you like to read?  If you ever want to talk about books, I’m here.  Or, I will be when I put my own book down.

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9 thoughts on “Lost in a Good Book

  1. What have you read recently that you loved? Would be interested to get some recommendations (I like memoirs and history as well).

    • History: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. Memoirs: The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman and Clara’s War by Clara Kramer. I also loved Breasts by Florence Williams.

  2. I like childrens novels too or more specifically “young adult fiction.” There are some excellent books out there. I also tend to read more nonfiction than I used to.

  3. Your list of things you don’t like to read (violence etc.) made me smile because yep I always figure I don’t need to put that in my head. Although I’ll read some with a small amount if it is necessary for the story. Got part way through George R Martin and decided nope…

    I go through phases of reading non-fiction and there is quite a bit of stuff I read because I want to keep up to date with science, Quaker stuff or just learn more about whatever is my current fascination.

    Fantasy and Sci Fi are fall backs, I do read some romance – the stuff with believable characters rather than paper thin ones. I like things with guaranteed happy endings when I’m feeling stressed – like comfort food 😉

    • You and I can sit together not liking George RR Martin. I forced my way through the first book for my book club. So much exposition for so little plot.

  4. Funny my son too is hooked on Fforde, but my family has so little overlap in the books they like to read that not much discussion happens here. Maybe I should go out looking for a book club blog, there must be many of those. Thanks for your very thought provoking words here.

  5. I identify so much with the things you say in this post. I am kind of a literary snob–I love literary fiction, the kind of books in which character is more important than plot, and I love to read beautiful language. Have you read Nicole Krauss? “The History of Love” and “Great House” are excellent.

    I am not a genre reader, either, and I avoid the best-seller list like a herd of skunks. I enjoy good biographies, too–my latest favorites were Katharine Graham’s autobiography and the new bio of van Gogh. I have many books on medieval history that I keep planning to get to until a new novel stops me. I do like serious historical fiction; I read and loved “Wolf Hall” and now have the sequel waiting for me.

    My husband is also a big reader, but he loves sci fi, which I don’t care for, and reads a lot of Roman history, so we don’t share that many books. We both do like classic novels and belong to our church’s book club, which reads a lot of them.

    Excellent post. Wish we could be in a book club together!

    • I loved the new Van Gogh biography! It totally changed how I thought of him. (I’ve not tried Nicole Krauss; I’ll look her up.)
      Has your husband read Lost to the West? I loved that, too.

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