Reading Comprehension

My favorite book club recently banned “Grammar Nazis.” This is a good thing. I’m sure you’ve all heard this lovely term. Grammar Nazis are people who need to be (and demand that others be) grammatically correct all the time. Man, life is not grammatically correct. It’s okay to make mistakes. Not to mention, being a Grammar Nazi online is incredibly classist and ableist. But this upturn in book club etiquette got me thinking.

I’ve belonged to many book clubs in my life. And while some entertain a friendlier crowd than others, for some reason, every club has its own snob or multiples thereof.

Before we move on, I feel like I need to address that, yes, I realize this is such a first-world problem as to be silly. And if you wish to devote your time to something else, I get that. You can just stop reading here and move along. But if you’re on the same petty first-world page as me, you’re probably pretty annoyed by book snobs too.

In addition to the arduous duties required of the average Grammar Nazi, these book snobs (I call them book snobs, by the way) are all hyper-focused on defining what it means to be a real book.

According to the book snobs, real books tangible. TANGIBLE, I tell you. Audiobooks and eBooks are off the table. They aren’t real. What does that even mean anyway? Are they imaginary? Do I only imagine that I’m reading on my Kindle or that I’m listening to the to-die-for-voice of Hugh Fraser reading Agatha Christie? Was it all a dream? Pretty good dream if I do say so.

I think this whole distinction between the real and the imaginary is pretty interesting if we’re getting all postmodern theoretical about it. But I don’t think that’s what they’re getting at. Which is a shame really, because that would be a great conversation.

And this is not to say that everyone should value printed books and eBooks the same way. Your preferences are your preferences. And you have a right to have them, obviously. Go you! But you don’t have a right to put down other people for having a different favorite reading preference.

So, it’s okay if you prefer holding a tangible book of paper and string and glue and ink. It’s a beautiful experience, turning the page. Believe me, I know.  But don’t be a snob about it.

Another book snobbish thing to do is genre-shaming.

I think a cozy mystery novel sounds nice. Like hot tea on a cold night. The book snob will say “god no, that’s not a real book.” And in my head, I hear them go on to say something along the lines of “I would never taint my cultivated reading palate with the likes of such filth.” Okay, yeah, so I have may made up that last bit, BUT… their actual comments aren’t far off.

On one snobbish encounter, I felt personally attacked that someone had the audacity to claim that Agatha Christie penned cozy mysteries (with all the rude connotations of a book snob behind it). If you think intricate murder mysteries written by the Queen of Crime are cozy, you might want to consider re-evaluating a few things. And what’s so wrong about a cozy mystery anyway? They’re well… cozy.

The list goes on. To the book snob, romance novels, manga, and graphic novels are all not books. That’s right. Not. Books. Maybe these book snobs have been reading too much George Orwell for their own good. Or maybe they stepped directly out of 1984 with their notebooks. Except of course, they could never be bothered to read such things. Cause, you know. Book snobs.

Oh, hey, while we’re at it, let’s talk reading goals!  Who doesn’t love some good goalsetting? What I find fascinating are the people who also keep minute details recorded on excel sheets alongside meticulously written diaries of the 10,541 books they’ve read so far this year and to top it off, they share these in our groups  to show off open a discussion.

These are the same people who forget what they’ve read. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a book club member say, “I got halfway through that book and realized I’d read it already!” I’d be able to afford more books.  Which I guess, is why they keep diaries full of plot notes for the 500 books they read last month.  I know I’ve said this before, but if you can get halfway through a book before you remember that you’ve already read it, maybe you’re working through your TBR pile a little TOO quickly.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but this one person just said yesterday that they’ve read 345 books so far this year (500+ pages each… apparently that distinction was important) and that she reads at least one book, and strives for two, every day, never fails. I mean, good on her, but who has that kind of time!?  And seriously, no wonder they might forget what books they’ve read. How can you retain the experience when you’re cranking them out like that?

On the other hand, sometimes members will lament that they’re not reading enough or they’re falling behind in their goals. For instance, this one poor woman said sadly “I’m not reading much these days… I’ve only gotten through 32 books in the last two months.”  That’s an average of four books a week, folks. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her? What kind of goals must she have to be sad over her current reading progress? Or, is it more accurate to think that she’s humble bragging? And if so, why? Nobody cares.

Like I said, it’s great to have goals.  But when you start sharing that record as a means of lording the accomplishment over others, you start venturing into snob territory.  We get it. You read. A lot.

I’ve got news for you, just because you read a lot and have very specific ideas of what exactly makes a book a book, you’re not better than other people. You’re not better. They’re not worse. We’re all just people who like to read.

Life With No Regrets

I know I’ve mentioned my book club a few times, but much like my family, they offer so much material! The other day, a member asked a question that I personally had a very hard time answering. Other members were ready with a quick retort – most in the affirmative, which, once again, left me shaking my head… since you know, it’s a book group.  I know you’re frothing at the bit to hear the question, so here you go. They asked, “What books do you regret reading?” I know, right!?

I felt as though they might as well ask, “What air do you regret breathing?” I was, however, in the minority. Apparently, people regret reading quite a bit.

Now, you might be thinking of those heavy books, the ones that stick with you for life. And I mean emotionally weighty—not those insanely thick, must-have-on-you-at-all-times textbooks we got in school. I mean the ones that you carry in your heart. The ones that put you in a bad way if you think too much about them. The ones where you learn about the harsh realities of the real world.

The ones where the dog dies.

Even though these books don’t make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, they have value. They teach us something. Maybe we learned about the atrocities of WWII; the holocaust, the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese concentration camps in America. As horrific as it is to accept, we learned something about humanity in all this history.

Or maybe the heavy book taking up space in your heart is fiction. Maybe the main character, the little girl you were rooting for, the girl burdened with unimaginable pain and sadness, the girl who shows compassion and strength, the girl who feels so real, dies at the end of the book. And you are heartbroken. And you are so moved by this, you are sobbing and letting tears run down your face and onto the pages. Reading can transport us into worlds where we are free to feel and express our emotions — good and bad.

How can you regret anything that makes you feel? Makes you learn. Makes you open your mind. Makes you grow.

Now you might think, “Well, what about a book you hated? One that was just bad.” Ahhh, but that wasn’t the question. This was a question of regrets. Bad writing is bad writing, but even then, regret reading? I don’t think so.

Reading, no matter what it might be, helps us to engage critically with ideas. Reading informs us in so many ways—not just by presenting facts like those heavy textbooks from a soon-to-be bygone era. It helps us to practice forming our own opinions. It gives us the gift of expanding our language, our imaginations, and even our aspirations.

No matter what the book is about, who it is written by, or what genre it falls in, reading a book is like taking a walk. By the end, you’re somewhere else. And even if we didn’t enjoy the journey, we saw something new.

So, instead of having an answer in my book club discussion, I only had another question: Can you really regret reading a book?

For the Love of Books

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I just moved. If you haven’t been paying attention, no worries, I barely pay attention myself.  However, this latest move really brought home (ha! Pun!) a harsh truth. I have too many books.  Although, really, are there ever too many books?  The movers who carted my stuff from the old place to the new place might say yes. They might even add in some colorful sentence enhancers.

After my last move, I downsized quite a bit and no longer have the “houseful of stuff” I’ve had in the past. I’ve narrowed down my possessions considerably. Still, it doesn’t seem to have made moving any easier. You see, I had only two different categories of boxes for the movers to sort through: fragile and books. The fragile items include a teacup collection, a vintage/antique plate collection, and other such sentimental possessions. I’d have to say though, the books won. You know, if we’re keeping count. Which I suppose we are.

I loathe giving up a book. In the past, I have donated a select few to a nursing home and a preschool. But in general, if I like a book enough to buy it, I like it enough to keep it.  So here I am, surrounded by books and fragile things. Not sure what that says about my state of being, but there you go.

If I’m honest, there’s really something comforting about being surrounded by books and if you’re an avid reader, I’m sure you can relate. I guess it’s why I love libraries and bookstores, and my own “not quite to the hoarding point” collection. I’ve always dreamed of having a library the likes of which are scene in Beauty and the Beast.  There’s just something about mountains of books that feels like home.

To start, there’s the soothing smell of an old book. Hell, even brand-new books have a comforting aroma. I’m willing to bet that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Next, there’s the satisfaction to be found in a page flip. As you progress further and further into a tale and flip a page, a feeling of accomplishment that’s almost addicting always follows. I’m not even going to get into the sheer excitement of delving deeper and deeper into a good story and the need – the absolute need – to find out how it ends … I mean, that would probably be showing a bit too much of my “crazy.”

To say I owe a lot to books is probably also showing a bit too much of my “crazy.” Doesn’t make it any less true though. I’m able to look back and see every book, every story, every adventure, and connect it to the time in my life when I first read it. When I need to reconnect to that time in my life or that feeling, I re-read certain books. Some books are just “comfort food” for my soul. Others take me on an adventure or thrill me with the ghosties that I love so much.

Heaven for me would be my own little kingdom of books, books, and more books. Nerdy? Yes, but it’s my thing. We all need to find that thing in life that brings us joy and, for me, that’s books.

Libraries, am I right?

Okay, so I know that I said I was off my book kick, but well, to put it bluntly, I lied. Although to my credit, this is more about libraries than books. Yeah, yeah, fine, I know. It’s about books.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the local library. Shocking, I know. The same can be said for when my kids were young readers. Quite honestly, nothing has changed. Walking into a library is heaven for me. It brings a sense of tranquility and excitement, if that makes sense. I do it as often as possible.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who don’t even own a library card. I mean, WTF? It’s free for goodness sake … free knowledge, free entertainment, free escapism. The question shouldn’t be, why do you need a library card, but rather, why don’t you have a library card?

They call the internet the information superhighway … well, the libraries had this down pat long before the internet was thought into existence. I’ve always thought that the idea that you could walk into an information storehouse and take as many books as you want home – for free – was just too good to be true. From self-betterment to the opportunity to explore new and exciting worlds, libraries are valuable.

In what might seem like an unrelated statement (but trust me, it’s not), if you’ve never seen 1994’s, The Pagemaster, I highly recommend it. Yes, I know you’re all adults. So what? It’s an awesome movie. I first watched it with my son and it soon became a favorite for us both, and then my daughter as well, when she came along. It brought to life, literally, the books we already loved so much.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been known to watch it just a *cough cough* time or two in recent years.

The Pagemaster is focused around a ten-year old boy named Richard. Young Richard bases his perception of life on statistics and figures and risk assessment, resulting in a fear of… well, just about everything. Upon getting caught in a storm, Richard takes shelter in a library to wait out the nasty weather. A fantastical adventure ensues as Richard encounters the Pagemaster, three books – horror, adventure, and fantasy – who seemingly come to life (horror, bless his heart, is my favorite … I know, typical, right?), and various fictional characters from beloved classics. To avoid spoiling the entire movie (I will reiterate that I highly recommend you watch it yourself), Richard gains a new sense of confidence and fearlessness by the end of his adventures.

It would be easy to say that The Pagemaster is a metaphor for the way books offer excitement, adventure, and a new perspective on life that we can carry with us forever, because it’s true. But it’s more than that. Books let us explore worlds that we never knew existed while helping us to be more present in our own. They quite literally feed our imagination to keep our sense of wonder alive, and this movie captures it all. An homage to libraries everywhere, The Pagemaster captures the importance of books and the impact they can have on young minds (though old minds could benefit from a book or two as well!).

So, while it might seem a little odd to recommend a movie in order to encourage reading… that’s exactly what I’m doing. I mean, let’s face it, today, now more than ever, we need books (and the libraries that safeguard them) and all they have to offer.

Books, Books, and More Books

I know, I know, enough with the books already, right? Oh, who am I kidding. I love books. Will always love books. And speaking of books, I need more bookshelves because my personal library is ever-growing. Yes, I buy books. I own books. I will also readily admit that I rarely clean out my collection, preferring to keep what I have forever. I. Love. Books.

I’ve talked before about the readers in my book clubs who seem to think that reading is a competition. In this week’s meeting, one woman announced she had read 30 books during the month of April. That’s one a day. Who has that kind of time?? I know, I know, I keep harping on the whole “how many books did you read” thing, having regaled you with other such stories recently… but come on!

These are the members who joined for the sole purpose of showing off their Evelyn Wood Speed Reading ability! No matter what book you bring up, they’ve read it. I mean, of course they have. They’ve seen the movie, and trust us, the book was better. Okay, well, they have a point there.

But you know what these voracious readers won’t do?  Re-read. “There are too many new books out there to read, why would I waste my time on re-reading?”  Ummm… I don’t know Karen, for starters, maybe you’ll catch little details you may have missed the first time during your speed-reading session. I’m no speed reader, but I, and many like me, reread books just for the purpose of enjoying a beloved story all over again, delighting in the subtle plot points we may not have noticed before, or for whatever reason, didn’t “click” in our heads during the first read. It’s like watching a movie more than once and catching the joke or the witty dialogue or the especially meaningful glance that you missed during the first viewing.

Not to mention that some books just get better with age. Maybe upon a second or third read, the story will hold greater meaning – or be interpreted completely differently – because as we age, so does our insight. Re-reading allows us to tap into that maturing mindset to see things differently than we did before.

For me, my most dog-eared books are what I call my “comfort reads.” They are books I’ve read too many times to count just because they bring me joy (as much as Stephen King can bring joy), I love the characters more than a person should ever love fictional characters (I’m looking at you Poirot and Mr. Darcy), or because the story means something to me. And you know what? I’m not ashamed. Re-reading is cool.

So, as I close out my book rants for a while, what are my words to you? Read the book you’ve already read. And then read it again. Drink it in, enjoy it. You won’t regret it. Trust me on this.

Read my Mind

Now you all know that I enjoy a special kind of torture, euphemistically called book clubs. I also love books of all kinds, including manga and young adult books.  I love books.  All books.

I’m seeing a trend now from my fellow “book lovers.” Apparently, there are rules, or at the least, guidelines. Who knew? For one, audiobooks aren’t considered books. Another that came up recently shocked me… and that’s really hard to do: Agatha Christie and her fellow funny, cozy mystery writers are scorned, much like sitcoms in television and McDonald’s to food critics.  In fact, these cozy, rainy night comfort-food mysteries aren’t just scorned, they aren’t counted as books at all.  They are sort of like a cheeseburger to a salad; empty calories for when you’re too lazy to read a real book. The fast food of literature, if you will.

Oh, there’s more.

Books are to be pristine, according to this new breed of book lover.  We’re not supposed to dog ear books (“oh my god, what are you, a monster?” they exclaim).

recently posted in one of my book clubs … to a resounding consensus

If a book they’ve ordered from Amazon has a slightly bent or nicked edge, they return it for a perfect specimen and complain about the seller. Now, you might say, sure, sure, I just bought a new book, I want it to be perfection itself. Yeah, well, they do the same thing for the used books they purchase. I wonder if these people went to college?  If they did, did they make notes on margins in their textbooks? Highlight sections?  Did they purchase *gasp* used books with both of those things (and worse)?  I’m amazed they survived.

If you read a lot, you quickly learn that used book sellers are your friend. The new breed of book lovers will lower themselves to buy used books, but they have extremely high expectations.  Much higher than my own requirements, which are simple: must have all pages and some semblance of a binding.

The new book lovers consider reading as a serious competition. One woman said she had just finished her 60th book for the year, and it was February. You think I’m joking. I’m not. I believe in setting goals, but good grief. Did you even read a word of any of them? If I asked you to write a sixth-grade book report on one, could you? I doubt it. This isn’t just a fast reader, this is an accomplished skimmer. She definitely counts Cliff Notes as books.

This same woman belongs to the group of book lovers who buy a book and, halfway through, realize they had read it before.  My fellow book club members make comments admitting to this foible frequently. So frequently, it’s almost funny.  How on earth do you not know you’ve read a book by the end of page five? Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby, an escape from life sometimes, not a marathon of forgotten tomes. Visits to the library must be very interesting with this woman.  She probably roams the aisles loudly exclaiming, “Read it.  Read it. Oh, wait! Nope. Read it.”  I know I read a book just from looking at its cover or reading the insert. Maybe this is because I actually read the words of each book I choose.  I dog-ear like a psycho, and the covers are bent enough to cause this new breed of new book lovers to have strokes.

I agree that library books and borrowed books should be handled with care, just as you would when you borrow anything from someone. If it’s not yours, you handle it carefully.

However, my own books?  They’re well-worn. They’re read. They’re loved. And I remember every single one.

There is a place in my heart for all bookies, lovers of the written word, collectors of all kinds. I’m just too old-school to participate in competitions.

Which, by the way, I would win, hands down, lady.

Of Books and Beauty

The only reason I’m sharing this is because I love the artwork. No witty remarks or long, drawn-out commentary. Looking at it just makes me feel good, and I wanted to hopefully pass that feeling along. Not only does it illustrate what it is like to be lost in a story — perfectly, I might add — but I think it’s beautiful as well. Of course, this is one of my favorite books, so there’s that too.  I don’t know who the artist is and would love to give them credit, however, as soon as I find out, I’ll update this entry.

Update: thanks to Angel of Anthropology, I found out this artwork is by Kylie Parker and is entitled “The Book” (photo below updated).

“The Book” by Kylie Parker

Book Nook Schnooks Unite!

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a book nook schnook.  I can definitely relate with The Shop Around the Corner, Meg Ryan’s little bookstore in “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s a coziness, a warmth that the large chains can’t give you. Don’t get me wrong. Stores like Barnes & Noble are still very nice; especially if you like fresh muffins with chocolate icing and cappuccino with your browsing, which I get often when I’m perusing the six, eight, I mean one – yes of course, just the ONE book that I’ve finally decided on.

me in a bookstore

The advent of Kindle and Amazon sounded the death knell for hundreds of small bookstores, and many large, nationally known chains. B. Dalton, Borders, Brentano’s, and Crown Books have all gone the way of the brontosaurus.

Still, there’s a place for the little neighborhood bookstores that have been able to stay open in these trying literary times, thanks to legions of Book Nook Schnooks, just like me, across America. Although not nearly as prolific as they once were, many of these smaller shops are alive and well, and even the big publishers are now paying more attention to them, helping them with pricing and marketing. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s part of the local community. It’s a meeting place for friends and neighborhood book clubs. It’s like a “Cheers” bar for book lovers. There is a growing “buy locally” movement that benefits the independent bookseller. For every $100 spent in a national chain bookstore, only $43 of it stays in the local community. Small bookstores? More than $73 stays in the neighborhood. There is also a sensory aspect to the small bookstores. When I’m in a Barnes & Noble, while resplendent and heavenly, it nonetheless smells of credit cards, name tags, industrial cleaner, and the aforementioned cappuccino (which really, they’re worth the trip if you ask me). In a small, locally owned bookshop, I smell Emily Brönte, Shakespeare, L.Frank Baum, Jack London, and Mary Shelley mixed with essence of earnestness. And not in a bad way.
  • Who wouldn’t love the small bookshop experience? Visiting one is like putting on a warm sweater on a chilly day, a cup of tea, a shelter from the storm. One never knows what will be found when turning the corner in an aisle and browsing. That’s a key word: It’s a word that is overused, yet underrated. Visiting a small store can be like visiting a vintage clothing store. “Wow!  I didn’t know I needed that, but I want it.” A pleasant surprise — in book form — lurks around every corner, just waiting to be found. Children sit on the floor, poring through picture books. Kindly Ms. Kelly is reading stories to a group of seniors.
  • The staff knows what they’re doing. They are keenly familiar with the store’s offerings. They don’t need a computer to see what’s in stock. But they know how to use one to order any book they may not have but a customer wants, and are probably just as excited as you are when it’s finally located. They love books more than you do, if that’s even possible. “Hey, if you liked X, you’re going to love Y!” Conversely, they’ll let you know if something you’re looking for isn’t your cup of tea. “No, actually, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ isn’t a graphic designer handbook.”  You can count on what a small bookshop employee tells you. It’s like the library except you get to keep your newfound treasure.
  • The “intangibles.” There is an “atmosphere” to a small store. You may find a comfortable amount of clutter, pictures drawn by local schoolchildren, and potted plants. Walking into a small bookshop, you will feel the tension in your neck and shoulders disappear, your attitude improves, and time slow down.

Yes, I am a proud Book Nook Schnook. Do yourself a favor and visit your locally owned bookseller. It’ll be good for you – and good for the neighborhood. There are more than 1600 of them still around. When you do, stop by and say “Hello!” for me. And hey, if you want to buy me a book…even better!

story-time is the best time

Library Shenanigans

I was waiting for my daughter to finish with her tutor yesterday at the library, and having already chosen the books I was taking home, I got a little bored.  So, I decided to amuse myself.

  • I grabbed a thick atlas off the Geography shelf and slammed it open at a table full of people. I pored over one page with a magnifying glass while mumbling “There it is!  The biggest treasure in history, just like Grandpa told me, right here on page 98!  He was right; I’m rich!”  Then, I slammed the book shut and put it back on the shelf full of atlases.
  • I went to the Wildlife section and made bird calls from behind the shelf any time anyone came over. My repertoire is quite impressive I’ll have you know.
  • I chose one person and followed him all around the library. Hiding behind the shelves, I kept popping my head out and whispering, “I see you.”
  • I found a book about time travel, then waited for people to come down the aisle before rifling through the pages and muttering angrily, “If only they knew. I could have saved them all.”
  • Strolled up to the librarian and announced, “I’ll have a Big Mac, small fries, and a diet Coke.” She was not amused.
  • I walked out of the bathroom with a thick book and said, “Geesh, I wouldn’t go in there for a while.”
  • I brandished a genealogy book over my head, screaming, “I knew it! Bow down before me!”
  • I read a comic book and kept spewing a running commentary of the entire thing. “Don’t go in there, Batman! Don’t do it! Oh, snap, he went in! Look out!”
  • Grabbed a book on dream interpretation and thumbed through it, feverishly mumbling “Giant mutant flying cannibalistic panda bears…”
  • Paged through a cookbook while sitting at a crowded table, whispering, “Where IS that kitten stew recipe?”
  • Pretended to have a heart attack in front of the CPR manuals. No-one noticed.
  • Built a fort out of books about forts.  The brilliance of this was lost on the security guards. They have no appreciation for genius.

They say I can be allowed back in the library by 2018, with adult supervision. No fair if you ask me.

Books on Tape

Have you guys heard of audiobooks yet? What a genius idea! They’re books that are read out loud by a narrator and recorded, so you can listen to the story instead of read it. Who knew?! (This is where you say, “Wendy, literally everyone knows about audiobooks.”)

Don’t worry, all. I’m not so far out of the technology loop that I’m just now learning that audiobooks exist. But, I will say that it wasn’t until just recently that I started to give them a shot. And you know what…I kinda like ‘em!

It’s not that I dislike good ol’ fashioned reading. Sometimes there’s nothing better than curling up with an engaging page turner, which is why it took me so long to come around to audiobooks. I figured, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And to me, books ain’t broke. I know, I know, perhaps I should listen to a grammar book (as my mother’s voice rings in my head…”ain’t isn’t a word, dear”).

But for some reason I decided to give audiobooks a chance. (The honest reason? They were free.) YouTube and a few other sites have books that you can download onto your phone and, boom, you listen through your headphones. Easy peasy.

The crazy thing I’ve learned since this new trend started is that I sort of like the feeling of someone reading to me. It’s relaxing in a very childlike sort of way. I can hunker down, close my eyes, and do literally zero work to have a story fed into my brain. I wouldn’t call it “laziness,” but rather an alternative relaxation technique I’m embracing. Hey, stop rolling your eyes at my rationalizations! I thought long and hard on that one!

I’m currently listening to Agatha Christie’s collection. Her books are great. Right now, I’m on “Cards on the Table.” The one downside with the audiobook is that it keeps my mind from conjuring up what each character sounds like. I hear the narrator and that’s the voice of the character. Not the worst thing in the world, but still, I miss that little sliver of freedom (such as imagining David Suchet – the quintessential Poirot) reading gives me.

Sometimes I start playing a book before bed to wind down, but I end up falling asleep and in the morning, I have to go back to the beginning again. But that’s not going to stop me. It might take me longer. But it won’t stop me.

Which is why I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked! Is it sad that I’d rather have someone read to me instead of reading for myself? Or is this me being “hip to the times” and embracing what technology has to offer? You decide. I have a book to listen to.