Month: April 2010 (page 2 of 4)

"Required" Reading


While randomly perusing my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from Libba Bray, a talented author and award-winning to boot. She tweeted:

Just read GG again. Total Love. RT @kehealey Apparently most people who read the Great Gatsby in school hated it? WHAT WHAT IS THIS.

I smiled, as I do with most of her tweets, because she’s just that kind of writer. But then I had to – figuratively – meekly raise my hand and sheepishly cover my eyes, because I am among those “most people” who just didn’t care for The Great Gatsby.

I know, I know – it’s The Great Gatsby! How could I not like it? But I just don’t – a feeling I attribute to the experience of having been required to read it when I was in school. This got me thinking about the books we “should” read and like because your English teacher, the overly pretentious book blogger, or your best friend says you should.

Students usually end up bearing the brunt of the required reading craze because of curriculum standards, teacher preferences and the idea that we’re all supposed to read certain books because that’s just what we do.

But even adults like yours truly, free from the constraints of reading requirements imposed by high school or college, still face the daunting task of having to read a book we may not like because someone else keeps raving on and on about it.

Exhibit A: I asked Santa Claus for Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for Christmas. A critically acclaimed and well-received novel about Tudor England history?!?! The dork inside of me was practically having a fit. Then, to sweeten the deal, it received so many wonderful reviews online and oh yeah, won the Booker Prize. How could I resist?

And yet, four months later, Wolf Hall sits on my shelf, the lonely bookmark keeping my place only a few chapters in. It’s an intimidating book with a dense and intricate plot and a host of characters who are difficult to keep track of, even if you’re familiar with the actual history. I want to love this book – nearly every reviewer and book blogger out there says I should. And yet I still haven’t managed to make a significant dent.

Sometimes, we read because we fall in love with something – a character, a plot, an author or even a cover. But other times, we engage in the adult version of “required reading.” We think we should like something because he told me I’d love it or she couldn’t stop talking about it. And like countless adolescents who groan at the thought of reading The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and just about anything Shakespeare wrote, we sometimes suck it up and trudge our way through plots and storylines.

The jury’s still out on Wolf Hall. One day, I’ll finish it and maybe I’ll have a completely different reaction. But right now, every time I stare at its blood red cover (Henry VIII did a lot of beheading in his days), I can’t help feeling like the experience of reading Mantel’s epic tome is the adult version of my time with The Great Gatsby: a “required” endeavor that feels more like an assignment than an enjoyable reading venture.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

Book News Round-Up

Greetings bookworms and welcome to another weekend. I’m just downright giddy today because I have tomorrow off from work – welcome to the wonderful world of random Massachusetts holidays: Patriot’s Day, which commemorates some battle (Bunker Hill, perhaps) during the Revolutionary War. The fact that I don’t know what the holiday is for doesn’t really matter – it just means more reading time for me!

  • If you’re a Twitter-er (and you should be), then you’ll want to know the 50 Best Book People to Follow on Twitter, compliments of The Huffington Post. It includes authors (like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow), publishing mavens, book bloggers and more. Alas, yours truly didn’t make the list, but that’s alright. Plans for world domination sometimes move slowly. I’ll get there someday.
  • As part of National Library Week, the ALA released its Frequently Challenged Books list for 2009. These books are the ones that received the most attempts at banning this past year. A number of usual suspects made the list, but surprising, so did Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. While I certainly understand that not everyone likes it, apparently some people tried to ban it for being “sexually explicit.” HUH? Did they even read the book? The relationships are downright chaste and there’s no sex until the main characters are married, so I’m at a loss to understand the logic here – which, of course, is my problem. I’m assuming that the crazy people who try to ban books (a) use logic and (b) actually read the books they try to ban. Silly me! What was I thinking?!?
  • Speaking of vampires and the things they may or may not do, you should really check out The Millions’ series on ethical vampires in contemporary literature. They mock and deride Twilight, but it’s also a really interesting look at how modern authors are trying to take the classic vampire mythos and recreate it as their own. That way, us readers end up with vampires like the Cullens, who are “vegetarians” on their own accord, and Bill from the Sookie Stackhouse novels, who has his own code of ethics. Fascinating stuff!
  • Turning now to happier subjects, the always-reliable folks over at Austenacious have combined two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and Glee! As fellow Gleeks, they have decided to imagine a world in which Jane Austen’s characters randomly break into song for no apparent reason and, accordingly, tried to find the perfect song for each character. The only way this could be better was if we could coerce Austen-esque actors (I’m looking at you, Colin Firth!) to actually sing the songs.
  • The Pulitzer Prize winners were announced this week. I wish I had something witty to say about the winners and their works of fabulous literature, but I’ve never actually heard of any of them. I was a bit disappointed that the National Enquirer didn’t even make it as a finalist for their coverage on the whole John Edwards scandal. It would have been nice for the masses to get a win. Oh well. There’s always the next political scandal!
  • And lastly, a few little self-promoting items. My blogger friend Kim published the first issue of Drop of Ink, an online writing magazine she created. I contributed an article for the issue, so you should really check it out – please? And in honor of National Library Week, I’m offering up a link to the post I wrote last year for NLW, partly because I think it holds up well and partly because I like librarians. Enjoy!

Happy reading, bookworms!

National Poetry Month


You probably didn’t know (because, really, who does know about these things besides me and other weirdos who hoard facts and trivia like some people hoard action figures), but April is National Poetry Month. It was established by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness of the art of poetry, the ability of language to transform itself and the heritage of all poets, American or otherwise.

I’ll admit – by and large, I’m not wild about poetry. It’s not exactly something you curl up with on a rainy day (at least, that’s not something I do). But it still definitely has its place in the literary world and its so often overlooked that we forget just how wonderful it can be.

To this day, I can still recite, from memory, nearly all of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow because it was one of the first poems I remember reading on my own. My poetic palate has expanded since then, thankfully, so I’ll spare you the rhyming couplets of history lessons. Instead, I’ll turn to a favorite, one I’ve posted about on LND before: Polish poet and Nobel Laureate Wislawa Symborska.

Enjoy, and Happy Poetry Month.

“Love at First Sight” by Wislawa Symborska
English Translation (Translator unknown)

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is more beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways–
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember–
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number”caught in the receiver?–
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night. perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

[Photo Credit: Google Image Search]

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