Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Talk: Favorite Books About Books and Reading, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

After writing the previous post, I realized there is a whole genre of books about books and reading. The books themselves give great pleasure on their own, but the hidden treasure is how one book leads to another. Reading about someone else's delight in a specific book often makes me want to read it myself and thus, the list grows longer and the shelves get fuller.
Here are some of my favorite books about reading and books:
1.     The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. "The extreme reader, to coin a phrase, is a rare bird indeed. ('I have done what people do, my life makes a reasonable showing,' Lynne Sharon Schwartz writes. 'Can I go back to my books now?') Such people are born, not made, I think; or mostly born and only a little made. They take care of themselves; they always do go back to their books." 
2.      Howard's End is on the Landing, A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill. "A special relationship is formed with books that have been on our shelves for years without being read. They become known in a strange way, perhaps because we have read a lot about them, or they are books that are part of our overall heritage. I think I know a lot about Don Quixote. I do know a lot about Don Quixote. I have just never read it. I doubt if I ever will. But I know what people mean when they talk about tilting at windmills; I recognize a drawing of Quixote and Sancho Panza. I believe Cervantes to be a great European writer. Why do I believe that? What possible grounds have I for believing it? Other people's opinions, the fact that it has an honorable and permanent place in the canon? So, Don Quixote has an honorable, permanent place on my shelves. It would be wrong to get rid of it and, besides I should miss its red leather binding."
3.       Reading Lolita in Tehran, A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. "The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable. I told my students I wanted them in their readings to consider in what ways these works unsettled them, made them a little uneasy, made them look around and consider the world, like Alice in wonderland, through different eyes." 
4.       Walking a Literary Labyrinth, A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone. "So what is it, this appetite for reading? I have often thought when watching nature programs on TV that the most basic act of animate nature is eating--not mating, which most animals do only when the female is in estrus. Everything living is eating something else in order to stay alive. That is why I read, I guess, to stay alive, to be as fully alive as I can be. In books, almost the whole world and everything in it are available to me to feed that life. The words we usually use to name that appetite--interest, curiosity--aren't good enough to describe the impulse and pleasure doesn't adequately describe its satisfaction. It is the need to know and understand--myself, others, the world beyond me, God--to ask about what is real and true and good and of value, about how we should live our lives. "
     Then of course, there are books of book lists like SuperLibrarian Nancy Pearl's Book Lust series and a teasingly fun book, Between the Covers, The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures. There are many other books I have read and enjoyed in the past: Book and Islands in Ojibway Country, Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors by Louise Erdrich; Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader by Ann Fadiman; The Yellow-Lighted BookShop, A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee: So Many Books, So Little Time, A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson; and a favorite from last year, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, My Year of Magical Reading by Nona Sankovitch. 
     And finally, there are the books waiting to be read, including The Reading Promise, My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma; A Jane Austen Education, How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and The Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz; and a brand new title just reviewed in the New York Times this past Sunday, When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson. 

Are books about books and reading part of your personal reading canon? If so, tell me about your favorites.  I am always eager to add another title to the list. Happy Reading! 

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