On reading

Reading is like many of my other hobbies in that I don’t do it consistently, but when I do, I do it hardcore. That means I may end up buying dozens of books in 2 months, read 75% of them, and then not finish another one for the next 6 months. Ever since I started taking the train, however, I’ve come to appreciate having reading time on a regular basis (all 10 minutes a day of it), enough that I think it may become more of a mainstay than it has been. The trouble now is finding the books.

About 2 years ago I went through a golden age of reading. Sure, there were a couple books I didn’t quite care for, but in the end I more than doubled my list of favorite books. Memoirs of a Geisha, Middlesex, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Empire Falls, The Kite Runner, and The Power of One, to name only a few. I learned that I enjoy contemporary popular literature of the trade paperback variety. Not the mass market type full of dialogue, or the trendy stream of consciousness episodic style, and nothing even remotely obscure either, just good, pretty, sometimes witty prose. East of Eden by John Steinbeck, anything by John Irving. I also have a soft spot for prehistorical fiction – e.g. Jane M. Auel, Edward Rutherford, etc.

At any rate, now that I’ve exhausted my familiar names, I no longer know where to find dependably good books. Just going by what’s new and notable doesn’t work for me; few things depress me more than buying a book only to discover that I’m just not that into it. I’ve latched onto a few authors to try and stave off the dry spell – Robert Sapolsky, Oliver Sacks – but am quickly running out of titles. Lately, it’s been a “nonfiction” phase. Not necessarily true nonfiction, but the anecdotal, pop culture type exemplified by Freakonomics (Stephen Levy) and The Tipping Point (Malcom Gladwell). I’ve found that I lose interest in anything that goes into too much detail (RIP, The Elegant Universe…).

Currently, I’m reading Monkeyluv by Robert Sapolsky. I have nothing lined up after that, so if anyone has suggestions for books, I’d definitely welcome them. Here are more books I’ve read recently that I really liked:

Animals in Translation – Temple Grandin. If you’re at all interested in animal behavior, or in autism, this book is amazing.
A Primate’s Memoir – Robert Sapolsky. Self-deprecating humor at its finest.
An Anthropologist on Mars – Oliver Sacks. Enlightening and perfect for anyone who loved reading psych case studies in college.
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell. Good if you’re the type to contemplate why people do what they do.
Bringing Down the House – Ben Mezrich. Fast-paced and makes you think maybe, just maybe….
Until I Find You – John Irving. If you like John Irving, this will be familiar. The ending, unfortunately, seems just a tad too little, too late.
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not quite as florid or fantastical as 100 Years of Solitude, but still beautiful, and stays fresh to the end.
Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres. Passionate and moving, the love story is interwoven with the war story without demeaning either one. It might just make you cry.

And other books I did not particularly like:

Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Known World – Edward P. Jones
The Singularity is Near – Ray Kurzweil
The Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Tangled Wing
Saving Fish From Drowning – Amy Tan (but I loved all of her other stuff)

Maybe I just don’t like books starting with “The”?


10 Responses to On reading

  1. megan says:

    Have you read Jules Verne? I picked up Journey to the Center of the Earth once and loved it. Around the World in 80 Days is excellent, and The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has a similar style. I also love food writing, like Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain. Mirabelle would recommend Sammy the Seal by Syd Hoff.

  2. shwu says:

    Hm, I think I read some version of Around the World in 80 days, but probably not the original. I will poke around the local used book store and see if they have some of those guys. So far, so good, none of them have the curse of the “The”. Sammy the Seal does sound good but I think I might already know all the words, sorry Mirabelle!

  3. megan says:

    I’ll bring over a few of my favorites next time I’m over. Save you the bookstore trip. Mirabelle probably just wants you to read Sammy the Seal to her. She’s manipulative that way.

  4. Lori says:

    I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and digging on it so far, although I can say nothing about whether or not it ends well. It’s all about American food and where it comes from.

    I also really liked Blink and Freakonomics and Middlesex and Memoirs of a Geisha and 100 Years of Solitude.

    More that I loved that you may or may not have already read:
    A Confederacy of Dunces (hilarious and brilliant)
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers is amazing)
    Life of Pi (brilliant)
    Lolita (read the first paragraph and you’re hooked)
    Reading Lolita in Tehran (more of an anthropology book, but it’s very well-written)
    The Fountainhead (I’m sure you’ve already read this)
    Night (short but incredibly poignant)
    Candyfreak (fun because it’s all about candy)
    Fast Food Nation (makes me love In n Out even more)

  5. shwu says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Omnivore’s Dilemma for a while – Nancy has it so I think I’ll get to it soon. Unfortunately, Lolita was difficult for me to get into, and I’ve been 10 pages from the end for the past 2 months. For Reading Lolita in Tehran, I was 10 pages in for about 2 months and finally decided to just resell it. :( I do like Life of Pi and The Fountainhead though. Staggering Genius I read and while it was fun for a while I think I got tired of his self-importance. In general, I’m not a huge fan of “trendy” writing styles. I’ll definitely check out Omnivore’s and Fast Food Nation though!

  6. Lori says:

    Kitchen Confidential! That was a good pop-nonfiction one too! Although I audiobooksed it and it might have been abridged. But I’ve heard good reviews in general.

    I’ve been like 20 pages into Atlas Shrugged for about 3 years…it’s just so daunting because of its size, but everyone who I know who has read it loves it (I did Fountainhead when we were living in Iowa and didn’t have cable or friends so we read a lot). I liked Life of Pi so much that I read it, and then we still bought it on audiobook and listened to it during the drive to Chicago.

    And HOLY CRAP if you haven’t read Old Man and the Sea yet, you should hit that. That book rocked me so hard and was thoroughly entertaining. It was my first Hemingway.

    Also, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sister Carrie were books I read in high school and thought were amazing.

    I’m going to take your list and add it to my queue, somewhere near the top (the queue is several hundred books long).

  7. lily says:

    i also didn’t like eggers that much…in the beginning i thought it’d be really good and there were parts that made me really sad (which is good), but after the parents died, it just got really old really fast.

    i agree with fountainhead and atlas shrugged, but i haven’t read them since high school…poisonwood bible and all the king’s men and invisible man (ellison, not wells) are other good high schoolish books.

    i can’t seem to get into the nonfiction tho…

  8. Christina says:

    If you liked The Kite Runner, which I also loved, I’ve heard “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is also excellent. It focuses on women in Afghanistan. I’m looking forward to reading it too.

    You guys should start an Ultimate Book Club!

  9. shwu says:

    I just bought Sirens of Titan (Vonnegut), Into Thin Air (Krakauer), and Kitchen Confidential. Sirens of Titan seems good so far but man it’s been a while since I read any Vonnegut, he’s so trippy!

  10. Pingback: 2008 in books « I was lost but now I live here

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