Monday, December 26, 2005

The Epicurean bookworm

There are far more books around than anyone can get through in a single lifetime. So we'd better prioritise.

Reading for practical purposes, we may occasionally need to slog through (or skim over) the mire of a boring book. But when we read for pleasure alone, there are no mandatory books. There are only enjoyable ones and dull ones.

The most effective way I've found to improve my reading enjoyment is to never read more than 50 pages of a dull book. If it ain't good after 50 pages, then it ain't no good for me. Never mind if it's a "classic", a "best-seller" or a "must-read". De gustibus non est disputandum.

Another important improvement was to start seeking out interesting books more deliberately. I used to read opportunistically: books on display at the library or the bookstore, found on the shelves of friends, given or lent to me by enthusiastic acquaintances. The books I sought out actively tended to cost me a lot of money and a trip to a bookstore.

Lately, the net has changed all this for me. Most importantly, I've discovered inter-library loan at my local public library. They can't buy books to cater to my tastes, but our friendly librarians happily get me any book I want from another Swedish library at little more than a dollar a pop (SEK 10, €1). I fill out a web form, press the button, and a few days later I get e-mail notification that the book is ready for pickup.

But of course, a lot of the stuff I like to read isn't held by any Swedish library. Enter eBay and on-line book stores. I'm no bibliophile: Content is King. I prefer a used paperback to a new hardback for reasons of economy, space and portability. So I go for the cheapest available copy, being careful to order from dealers inside the EU if possible. That way I don't have to pay customs. And most paperbacks fit through the mail slot in our front door, saving me a trip to the post counter down at the grocery store.

I have a tendency to make duties out of things I really only do for fun. But in recent years, I feel I've managed to turn my reading into an almost unalloyed delight.

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Blogger Johan said...

"The most effective way I've found to improve my reading enjoyment is to never read more than 50 pages of a dull book."

I wish I could keep to somehting like that. I tend to read my books from cover to cover no matter how dull or bad they are. A terrible waste of reading time, really.


27 December, 2005 17:49  
Blogger Martin said...

Absolutely pointless, imnsho. The only reason to do that is if you feel there is any value in being able to say "I've read This Boring 'Important' Book".

Myself, I prefer to say "I read a few chapters of Ulysses and then quit in disgust. I think it's pretentious soporific shite."

No boring book is worth any reverence. That should be reserved for fun, gripping, riveting ones!

28 December, 2005 00:12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've learned not to trust reviews.

What I have found to be a great way of finding good books is finding a reviewer with whom you tend to agree on his or her past reviews - that way you learn that your tastes go the same way (this works with recommendations from acquintances as well).

I don't trust anything for being a classic, either. If anything, I tend to get pleasantly surprised if they're actually good. My tolerance for old science fiction classics have dropped badly lately, for instance.


28 December, 2005 00:36  
Blogger Johan said...

I've read Important Book (boring, witty, interesting, beautiful, dull -- it takes many shapes) enough times not to be particulary bothered by that. I do enjoy most classics, too, even though there are many classic writers I'm indifferent to at best: the aforementioned Joyce, Fitzgerald, Moberg, et cetera. It's more the -- no less silly -- idea that I should surrender to no book. My habit of reading a book from cover to cover without putting it down doesn't help, either. It's much harder to stop reading something if you actually have to stop reading it rather than just never pick it up again.

Sharing someone's taste, reviewer or not, is of course a very good way to find new books. A really good reviewer can give you a good idea of whether you will like a book or not no matter what the reviewer personally thought, though.


29 December, 2005 01:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or, in some cases, the way a reviewer likes a book makes you certain that you won't like it. For instance, the way a reviewer in Dagens Nyheter praised Elfriede Jelinek made me pretty damn confident I'd find her a ghastly read...


29 December, 2005 14:27  
Blogger Johan said...

Or the way Per Israelson thought Eragon was a pretty OK book in Svenska Dagbladet. Sure made me feel I would hate it from the first page.


30 December, 2005 03:55  
Anonymous Johan Adler said...

For a quick reading of the Classics, try David Bader's "One Hundred Great Books in Kaiku". A hundred classics in 1700 syllables. E.g. Becket's Godot:

Act 1. "It's hopeless.
My boots don't fit. Where is God?"
Act 2. The same thing.

Amusing book, IMHO.

30 December, 2005 20:55  

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