Monday, November 16, 2009

On selective reading

I’ve always been a reader. With the exception of the first couple of years at university, I’ve spent much of my spare time wolfing down books like I was afraid they’d disappear if I turned my back to them. When I started university, however, the amount of (non-fiction) reading I had to do for class made me hesitant to pick up (fiction) books for down time. In addition, I did not have all that much “down time”, the little spare time I had left after classes and such activities as cooking (which I rarely had to deal with when I was living with my parents) was usually spent with new and old friends. For about two years I only read maybe one or two books each year. After a while, though, I realized how much I missed reading fiction, and so I made the decision that reading-time was something I needed to grant myself. Having limited time to read, however, which books you read start to matter.

I have a number of friends who felt the same way, and we decided to form a book circle where we would meet about once a month, read a book and discuss it. In addition this was a nice way for us to get together with some regularity. A problem soon became apparent, however. Our book circle meetings tended to be a lot like my mom’s sowing club – they don’t actually do any sowing… We got together, but often only a few of us had read the book, while some had not even bothered to try to get hold of it. Often this had to do with the fact that whoever got to pick the book (the host of next month’s meeting), was the only one specifically interested in reading that book. Consequently, the meetings became more about spending time together than about the books. I always have a good time with my friends – no problem there – but for the purpose of reading more books, it wasn’t working. The book circle has been dormant for a while now, but we recently decided to pick it up again. This time, we wanted to make a list of books we all agreed roughly were ones we’d potentially like to read, and then at least everyone had an incentive to actually give the book of the month a chance.

Yesterday we sat down (or some of us – attendance isn’t our strongest point either) and made the list.

It wasn’t easy.

Even though we’re all about the same age, we’re all girls (our only male member is currently living in Stockholm), we all attend (the same) university, and we generally have a lot in common; we have quite different taste in books. In addition, we had all sorts of considerations to make: We did not want too many male authors, while none of us wanted feminist literature. We did not want too many from the Western (or at least not the English-speaking) world. We wanted some Norwegian books/authors. We wanted some classics, but also some modern ones. The books in question could not be too long (must be possible to read in a month with a busy schedule), and they should not be something too many of us have already read. We also wanted a variety of genres (even though many of us share a hesitation for certain genres). There were a lot of criteria, but we finally managed to make a list of 25 books that we will have to choose from each month:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

2. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

3. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

4. Twelfth Night – Shakespeare

5. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

6. War of the worlds – H.G. Wells

7. [Not East of Eden by] – John Steinbeck

8.[Not the Great Gatsby by] – F. Scott Fitzgerald

9. Middlemarch – George Eliot

10. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol

11. The reader – Bernhard Schlink

12. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

13. (A Prayer for Owen Meaney) – John Irving

14. On Chesil Beach/Saturday – Ian McEwan

15. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

16. Bukkefesten [The Feast of the Goat] – Mario Vargas Llosa

17. Sataniske vers [The Statnic Verses] – Salman Rushdie

18. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

19. Kejsarn av Portugallien – Selma Lagerløf

20. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

21. Wild Swans – Jung Chang

22. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis – Jose Saramago

23. Jenny – Sigrid Undset

24. Amtmannens døtre – Camilla [not Cruella ;)] Collett

25. [Something by] – Sigmund Løvåsen

It remains to see whether the list is a success.

Also, one of the blogs I read regularly made a brilliant suggestion the other day. She too had been cutting back on reading time the last few years, and in order to get back on track, she suggested committing to reading 100 books by the end of November 2010 (a NaNoReYea of sorts). Since I’ve lately had a knack for heading into things I have no chance of completing, I accepted the challenge. Here’s an encouragement to you – join the fun and pick your books to read by the end of the month so that you can say that you’ve read 100 books in a year too! In order to simplify things, figure out how many you have to read per month (hint: aim for nine, and you’ll have time to participate in next year’s NaNo…) and make a list of which to read each month. That way you can cross off how many you’ve read, and you’ll be able to keep track of when you reach 100.

My November (2009) is already booked (and, let’s face it, we’re more than halfway into it now…), so my list will consist of books I’ll try to finish by December 31st. Naturally, one of them will come from the above list (we picked a book for the upcoming meeting, but I already forgot which one. I’m pretty sure it was either To Kill a Mocking Bird or Amtmannens døtre, though, so one of them goes on the list. Further, my current reads are limited to what books I brought with me when I moved (which is a tiny percentage of my normal selection). Also, I’m not picking the heavy reads this month, and a few of the books I’ve already started. I’m working way too much in November and December, and then there’s the blogging, the NaNo, the thesis (I can’t believe I put that in after blogging and NaNo…) and the social catching upping from having lived abroad for a while. I just don’t have enough hours in the day!

1. Amtmannens døtre/To Kill A Mocking Bird

2. The Search for the Red Dragon – James A. Owen

3. Simon’s Cat – Simon Tofield (I know this is a cheat, since it’s a comic book. But it’s AWESOME and it has me giggling all the time)

4. Babbit – Sinclair Lewis

5. En herregårdssägen – Selma Lagerlöf

6. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

7. Before I Forget – André Brink

8. Gould’s Book of Fish – Richard Flanagan

9. The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

Wish me luck, and feel free to share your own list! :)

Currently reading: see above...

Currently listening to: Flight of the Concords - I Told You I Was Freaky [and they mean it too...]

Currently avoiding: NaNoWIP and doing the dishes. I think I'll do the dishes, actually...


M.J. Nicholls said...

This is a swell idea. The only snag is that you're likely to fall in love with ONE particular author, and want to seek out all his/her works right away.

To prevent this, I'd recommend having your short-term memory erased after every book. I'm sure there's a clinic in Tromsø somewhere.

Also, I humbly recommend anything by Lucy Ellmann or Will Self (probably not available where you are, but it's too late to stop typing now).

Tundiel said...

Well, seeing as I take out 10-15 books from the library every other week, I'm pretty sure I read well over 100 books every year....*shifty*

GREAT idea though, I wish you luck!

Looking at your list, I recognize many of the books, but have actually only read one of them.'The Wasp Factory' is pretty darn odd, but I remembering finishing it, so it can't have been THAT bad....

Cruella Collett said...

Mark - even though there are authors I love and want to read everything by, I rarely want to do so within a short time span. I even prefer reading something else in between books by different authors but with similar settings/themes/characters/plots/whatever. In fact, I can't remember the last time I immediately picked up another book by the author of a book I just finished.

And I believe that clinic is in Åndalsnes.

Will check out Ellmann and Self - I know we've had The Book of Dave at work, at least. Most of our imported books come from the UK (even the American ones, for some reason), so it's usually not so tricky to track British books down.

Tara - but do you READ all of them? It doesn't help if you're just stacking them by the door to impress visitors, you know... Nah - I know you're a reader too. How you have time to read as much with a family, keeping your house and writing a book is beyond me, though.

Tundiel said...

I read every day, can't help myself. I've always read 1- 3 books per week, depending on length and genre, but since losing my laptop, I need something to fill the evenings (hubby hogs the PC/TV). I took out 11 books from the library yesterday, and I finished the first one this morning (although that one was chick-lit and only 300 odd pages, so didn't rquire a lot of brain power). I can re-read the HP series in under a week (easy reading) but The Lord of the Rings will take me OVER a week to plough through. It all depends on the genre. I've always been a pretty fast reader though. *shrugs*

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