Friday, November 25, 2011

The Rise and Fall of an American Reading List

It's been more than four years since I browbeat the readership, as it was then, into providing me with a long long reading list. And, once I got over the hurdle of Dosteovsky, working my way through that list has been one of the great joys of the late aughts and early teens. And behold! I have read and reported back on a whopping 45 books! Many of them quite thick!

Yet, here in the late going, cracks have appeared in the ediface. I have run into a series of books that I have simply not been interested in reading, and even my mania for project completion has begun to flag.

Unread Books

The signal text was probably Fast Food Nation, a perfectly respectable piece of journalism about the fast food industry and American agribusiness. I understand why this is seen as an important book. Yet, to me, it embodys a perfect storm of barriers to produce reading. First, it is about food, and except in the way of every animal, I do not find food interesting. Secondly, it is about fast food, which is not really part of my life. Thirdly, it is about a vast social problem that I can do nothing about. And fourthly, worstly, it is polemical. I hate polemic, especially when I agree with it.

Then there's Amusing Ourselves to Death, a dated treatment of television. I could literally not care less about television, except as a medium for the broadcast of bowl games. Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy turned out to be a book length itteration of a good magazine article I read a long time ago. The Way We Eat and Why Our Food Choices Matter is, once again, about food; I feel like I've done yeoman's duty on the topic of food ethics with Matthew Scully's Dominion (read in October 2008), and feel no need to linger in the preached-at choir.

In short, I've decided that I could -- well, take your pick: "choose what I want to read for myself, like a norm," or "break faith with my readers." Very liberating! It allowed me, for instance, to throw Harry Potters V, VI, and VII into the out-box, manfully sacrificing my curiosity as to who the next three Defense Against the Dark Arts professors will be as well as the yearly updates in Quiddich broom technology. I'll try to roll with it.

Running From Rabbit

The big surprise, though, has been Rabbit is Rich, the third installment of John Updike's biography of the unloveable Harry Angstrom. I thought that Rabbit, Run was a tremendous book, and gave the second book, Rabbit Redux, a glowing review earlier this year. Yet Rabbit is Rich has completely failed to engage me. I don't know why. Maybe these are not books to read in the autumn, when the relentless negativity of their world view tends to claw at one more than it might in spring. It's genuinely puzzling to me. I checked out the critical response, more or less hoping that there might be a general consensus that Rabbit is Rich was the dog of the series. But that's not the case. And so I sat, nearly halfway through the book, feeling no motivation to continue: no curiosity as to what happens next, and no desire to remain immersed in the fictional world. I passed the first climax, a spectacular, emotional event that made me roll my eyes, and stopped.

Maybe I'm just over Rabbit.

Remaining Books

That leaves the following books on the Reading List, along with my intentions towards them, now that I've broken the seal on intentions:

Hansen, Motoring With Mohammed -- Judging from blurbs, this might be interesting. I'll give it a whirl.

McCall, Makes Me Want To Holler -- Judging from blurbs, this doesn't look very interesting. But I'll start it.

Donaldson, the first Thomas Covenant trilogy -- Oh sure. I'm curious about how it reads, 30 years on.

Davis, One River -- I don't know what this is.

Byatt, Possession -- I'm looking forward to this one.

Stegner, Angle of Repose -- I'm looking forward to this one, too.

Moore/Gibbons, Watchmen -- This is a comic book, I think? No reason not to read it.

Rawicz, The Long Walk -- A Mrs.5000 favorite, if I recall. What's good for the goose...

Levin, How the Universe Got its Spots -- Sounds like it has potentional.

Campbell & Campbell, The China Study -- It's about food. But I'll look at it, at least.

Tolstoy, War and Peace -- This one wasn't even on the original list; I smuggled it on because I want to read it.

LeGuin, Earthsea trilogy -- Definitely

Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country -- Sounds good.

Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas -- Sounds good.


pfly said...

"It allowed me, for instance, to throw Harry Potters V, VI, and VII into the out-box, manfully sacrificing my curiosity as to who the next three Defense Against the Dark Arts professors will be as well as the yearly updates in Quiddich broom technology." Haha, good for you! Of those remaining books I haven't heard of most of them, but would agree on the goodness of ''War and Peace''. ''Earthsea'' is good too, although I was a teenager when I read it--perhaps it would stand up to reading now, perhaps not. But, if you've gotten through Dosteovsky and have sights on ''War and Peace'', shouldn't ''Moby Dick'' be in the queue too? Or have you read it?

Michael5000 said...

I've read Moby Dick. Good book. Ripping first fifty and last fifty pages. Have never seen an argument that even approached convincing me that it wouldn't be a much better book with the technical chapters edited out.

Jenners said...

I've heard Possession is good. It is on my TBR list too. I cry for your lack of love for Harry Potter.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Good heavens! You got your work cut out for you, 5k! Get crackin'!

chuckdaddy said...

Dude! You missed the key party. Should've held out...

Michael5000 said...

Jenners: Take comfort, my dear, my lack of love for Harry Potter does not mean I am without love. I think my love for Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin alone is more than enough compensation.

Dr. Ken: Have you been under the impression I haven't been cracking?

chuck: Surely not a key party? It was already 1979!

Nichim said...

Just read Earthsea fifteen times instead.

Voron X said...

Too bad about Harry Potter - the serie was about to get much darker and more mature where you left off. Book 6 is probably the best.

Regarding Earthsea: It's a good series (now with five novels, and a short story in the direct narrative, and various other related short stories), but I think that The Left Hand of Darkness (political drama/adventure which explores a genderless culture) and The Disposessed (which explores a realistic anarchistic society, and deals with themes of non-linear time and simultaneity, as well as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) are a little "meatier". Both won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel.

Have you read the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov? or Stranger in a Strange Land or Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein?

Michael5000 said...

Mr. X: I am gradually rereading the Hainish books even as we speak, and by interesting coincidence Dispossessed is waiting for me at the library. I've read the Foundation books a couple of times, and probably the Heinlein books too when I was a young stripling; however, outside of Ms. LeGuin (whom I have met, and have all sorts of odd two-degree connections with), I don't feel that "classic" science fiction really had its literary house in order. Most of the authors that really fire my interstellar rocket are still active.