Nov 18, 2012

The Sunday Salon – Bookish Q&A

The Sunday

Hello everyone. Both Isabella and Alex tagged for some fun bookish questions this past week, and since it’s been ages since I last did anything of this sort, I thought I’d give it a go:

What book (a classic?) do you hate?
I didn’t get along with Wuthering Heights at all when I tried it. But then again I was something like 14, and I don’t necessarily trust my 14-year-old self. So one of these days I want to give it another go. My tastes and interests have changed a lot over the years, and even if I still don’t enjoy it I’m sure I’ll at least appreciate it at another level.

To what extent do you judge people by what they read?
I try really hard not to. I’ve written a lot about this over the years, so I’ll avoid repeating myself, but I believe that the fact that we uphold scales of worth when it comes to reading is a harmful thing. This has serious implications for the kind of outreach and reader development work (some) librarians do, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, especially when I was in library school. As Nick Hornby wisely puts its,
And please, please stop patronizing those who are reading a book –The Da Vinci Code maybe – because they are enjoying it. For a start, none of us know what kind of an effort this represents for the individual reader. It could be his or her first full-length adult novel; it might be the book that finally reveals the purpose and joy of reading to someone who has hitherto been mystified by the attraction books exert on others. And anyway, reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing.
Having said that, of course I’m not perfect: a couple of authors that bring out all the small-minded snobbishness in me are Paulo Coelho and Kate Morton. But I try to snap out of it, because I really don’t want to be that person.

What television series would you recommend as the literariest?
I’m not sure if in this context “literary” means “with bookish ties” or “that shares the most qualities with literature”. If it’s the former, earlier this year I really enjoyed Call the Midwife, which is based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs; if it’s the latter, I loved Six Feet Under for all the reasons why I love my favourite books: the characterisation, its ability to move me, the fact that it invites me to empathise with complicated and imperfect characters, the thematic scope and emotional range, etc.

Describe your ideal home library.
Floor to ceiling shelves with lots of available space; a couch, beanbags, and lots of cushions all over the floor; French windows to let in lots of sunlight; a desk and comfortable chair for blogging purposes; an armchair and fireplace; tea and coffee making equipment; and perhaps a reading nook like one of these.

Books or sex?
Ha – isn’t it great that we don’t actually have to choose?

How do you decide what to read next?
I’d like to say I just follow my whims, but half the time that’s not actually true. I have a text document in my desktop called “Reading Plans” where I list what I want to get to next for whatever reason – because it’s due at the library, because it’s a review copy, because I borrowed it from a friend and really shouldn’t keep it forever, because I made some sort of commitment to read it (bloggy project, read-along, etc), or simply because I feel like it. In case you’re curious, here’s what’s on the file at the moment:
  • Scenes from an Early Life
  • Where Things Come Back
  • Buried Treasure
  • Tea by the Nursery Fire
  • The Age of Wonder
  • The Song of Achilles
  • Feeling Sorry for Celia
How much do you talk about books in real life (outside of the blogging community)?
Sadly not very much, which is why I cling to you lot so desperately. I talk to my partner about whatever I’m reading, but sometimes I fear that “talk at” would be a more accurate way to phrase it. Now that I have a bloggy neighbour, though, I do get to talk about books face to face more often than before :D

Does blogging ever get in the way of reading for you, or does it enhance it?
It enhances it in so many ways I don’t even know where to start: it encourages me to think more deeply about my reading, it keeps me on my toes intellectually, it introduces me to books and authors I’d never have discovered otherwise, and it generally makes reading more fun. I’m sure I’d have more time to read if I didn’t blog, but I know I wouldn’t be anywhere near as excited about reading without this community.

How often do you re-read books, and which have you re-read the most?
These days, nowhere near often enough. This is one of the downsides of blogging: it keeps me focused on new, shiny books (not necessarily new releases; just books that are new to me) instead of on my old favourites. I love rereading, and before blogging I used to do it a lot: I’ve reread Neil Gaiman’s early books, Fire and Hemlock and my favourite Discworld novels four or five times. Every year I say this is a habit I want to return to, and yet every year I fail.

Are there genres of writing that you won’t read?
There isn’t anything I refuse to read point blank, because I think it’s silly to see genres as anything more than a classification system. As the great China Miéville once put it, there are aesthetic traditions and storytelling protocols associated with each genre, and writers get to play with them in all sorts of ways. But that doesn’t mean that genre will tell you anything whatsoever about a book’s level of depth and complexity, about its characterisation, about its degree of social and political engagement, about what it has to say about the real world and the whole business of being human. Assuming that most readers of this or that genre must not like smart, nuanced or politically aware books as much as you is extremely patronising. Besides, there are remarkable books in every section of the bookshop, and I’d hate to deprive myself of them because I’d made hasty assumptions about what belonging to this or that genre means.

Having said that, there are a couple of genres I’ve barely read at all, mostly because I don’t know a lot about them and feel very intimidated. Take romance, for example: it’s a huge genre, and how do I even begin to find what I like? Thankfully The Real Ana has been helping me with this: she recently lent me a romance novel by Rose Lerner, so I guess we’ll see how that goes.

When you go on holiday do you take a holiday from reading, or is your case full of books?
A holiday from reading? *gasp* But aren’t holidays all about having MOAR time to read? In all seriousness, I do take books with me when I travel, and having an e-reader has made the selection process a lot easier. When I go on a short city break, for example, I barely do any reading other than on the plane or train, but it’s good to have the option anyway.

How do you shelve your books: alphabetically, fic and non-fic, or by theme etc?
Mostly by theme. The majority of my books are currently in storage at my parents’, but the one meagre bookshelf I have here is organised as follows: Children’s and YA, Non-Fiction, SF/F, General Fiction, Graphic Novels, and Cookbooks.

Tell me about an author you’ve recently discovered (whether new or old), and want to read much more of.
The last author I discovered whose entire back catalogue I vowed to read was Eva Ibbotson, but it’s been about a year and a half now. Actually, the other day I was thinking about the reading stats I always post at the end of the year: one of the categories I use is “favourite author discovered this year”, and I realised I have absolutely no idea who I’ll pick for 2012. This makes me very sad indeed.

And finally for fun, what books do you want for Christmas?
ALL THE BOOKS! I gave my partner my Christmas wishlist the other day and there are almost 20 books in there. Obviously I don’t expect him to get them all, but the more options he has the more likely he is to surprise me. I always enjoy getting non-fiction the library doesn’t have and that I’m not likely to get myself for Christmas. This year, I have my eye on Bad Pharma, The Geek Manifesto, The Blind Giant, Bloody Nasty People, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, etc.

I’m terrible at coming up with questions of my own, so I hope nobody minds if I skip that step. Feel free to answer these questions yourselves, though, either in a post or in the comments. Have a great Sunday!


  1. Yes on French Windows with a reading nook! People who have either are so lucky! :--) And I presume by your answer about books or sex you mean, now that we have books on tape with earphones? ha ha!

  2. Ana leant you the Rose Lerner :D :D It's so respectful and funny and hot.

  3. Jill: lol! You are TERRIBLE :P

    Jodie: I'm really looking forward to reading it :D

  4. I recently discovered Call the Midwife. The characters are just wonderful. :)

    Your ideal home library sounds absolutely perfect!

  5. I didn't read at all on my last holiday which is unusual for me. I met my mother and sister at the beach and we were so busy I never cracked a book.

    I don't get people who judge people because of what they read. I'm just happy to see people reading.

  6. I go on a reading frenzy when I go to Poland (because they don't speak much English!) with my bursting Kindle. Other vacations I won't touch a book. And I just want to throw myself on to my bed and cry that you don't like Kate Morton. I love her books so much. And I really am guilty of being critical of those who think that Fifty Shades or Da Vinci are the best thing ever. I do need to check myself in that area.

  7. Amy: Aren't they? I loved the series and really want to pick up the book at some point.

    Kathy: It makes no sense to me either.

    Sandy: I have many friends who are Kate Morton fans, and that's exactly what makes me realise I'm being silly if I think, "only a stupid person would enjoy this rubbish!" or anything of the sort - I KNOW you guys, so I know you're smart and attentive and engaged readers, and we just happen to disagree on this one author. One of the things I appreciate the most about blogging is exactly that it has allowed me to get to know people with all sorts of reading tastes, and getting to know people makes it impossible to caricaturise them. If I'm ever tempted to make a hasty assumption about people who enjoy this or that, I remember the real human beings I know who like the book or author in question and I'm instantly cured.

  8. Oh god, I try REALLY HARD not to judge people for what they're reading, especially after a debacle in my last year of college when I (mostly accidentally) offended someone because they were reading a (to me) crappy book. I still judge, though. BUT I DO IT SILENTLY which I guess is kind of better? Still feel guilty about it, though. :P

  9. aw these are fun questions! And great answers as always :)

  10. I am a bit lucky in that I rarely judge people on what they're reading because I know I read books that other people judge quite harshly. I'm just happy they're reading and better if they're engaging with and thinking about whatever it is that they're reading; I know far too many people who simply don't read at all. That's not to say I won't try and push books I love on them once I discover that they like reading, though. I am extremely guilty of that.

    I'm with you on the re-reading too. I used to read my favorite books so many times and I hardly ever do now. :/ It is the new and shiny and the realization that there are SO MANY BOOKS that I might love which stops me now.

  11. I try really, really hard not to judge people by what their reading, but it seems like there are a lot of times when, before I can stop myself, I'm already deriding whatever they've got in their hands. I work in a bookshop, and I'm not sure if that has anything to do with the frequency of when that happens. Books that seem to inspire this the most tend to be of either the 50 Shades or Joel Osteen variety.

    I love hearing you talk about the book blogging community, but I have to ask - are there times when the community just gets to be a little too much? Like, you're a little too connected, so it's pressure instead of connection? Always curious what other bloggers have to say!

  12. What a lovely post, Ana! It was a bit like catching up with you in person, what you're up to today. I might borrow this in the next week, I enjoyed the questions and your answers so much.

    I really liked the Nick Hornby quote you gave. I remember reading that quote in his book and it changed how I look at what people are reading, too. He's very wise sometimes, and he's right: reading should be celebrated, no matter what it is.

    Ideal home - I love yours, the French windows for lots of light is a must, as is the desk and chair for writing, and all the comfortable seating, and especially: the floor to ceiling bookshelves with lots of space. YES!!!! lol oh and the we all dream of this, I wonder, for our dream home?

  13. I hear you on the Wuthering Heights. You are a braver person than I am, because I cannot bring myself to bother trying again.

    Re: judging, I tend to like to think of myself as not doing this -- public librarian and all that, can't afford to judge what people read -- but I am guilty: I just can't get around the number of people who read James Patterson. I've been known to even snark about him publicly. I have to watch myself -- our student library page loves his books and is trying to own everything he has "written" (no small feat.) She's also a very smart kid who reads lots of other great stuff, so why should I care that she loves Patterson's stuff?

    I just have to remember that, as another commenter above: I read lots of things others think of as trash (I do so enjoy the odd Harlequin-style romance) and wouldn't want them to think less of me because I do.

    Speaking of Coelho, I finally got around to reading (well, listening, it was an audiobook) The Alchemist. Review should be up in a week or so...

  14. Where Things Come Back is amazing. It reads like a musical score where everything builds perfectly to the only possible end.

  15. I love these questions! I think I'll answer them on my own blog. :)

  16. If your tastes have changed I'd say revisiting Wuthering Heights would be a good idea, and from a blog reader's point of view your discussion would be something to look forward to :)

    "But that doesn’t mean that genre will tell you anything whatsoever..." That's the reason I find it so hard not to read the occasional (non historical because I just call them history books) romance. There is generally something important to take from any book.

    I love how you included blogging in your ideal library.

  17. I would have picked Wuthering Heights too. But I too read it at 14 so who knows what I'd think of it now.

    I loved what you said and quoted about judging people for what they read. I tend to big a bit snobbish sometimes but working in a school library has changed this a lot, now I'm just happy anytime they borrow something, even Twilight! :P

  18. This is a great selection of questions, I may have to give some of them ago. Thank you for sharing a very amusing post.

  19. Wuthering Heights, huh? It's funny--I read it at either 15 or 16 and LOVED it. However, I strongly suspect that if I read it again now I would despise it.

  20. I will always love Wuthering Heights. My daughter didn't like it, though. Now she's trying to talk me into reading the one book I never wanted to read before this, Moby Dick.I will probably capitulate soon because why not? I agree about reading ALL the books!

  21. Anastasia: Well, we're all allowed uncharitable thoughts in the privacy of our heads :P Obviously I do that too, but I think that as long as we're not actually snotty to people it's all good.

    Amy: Glad you enjoyed them!

    Meghan: Yes, I'm definitely guilty of that as well - I'm a terrible book pusher. And I know what you mean: the older I get and the more I realise how MUCH there is out there, the easier is to become anxious about not having time to take it all in.

    Chelsa: Yes, that definitely happens too - this post is a great example of how blogging can become pressure-y. As with everything, there's a good and a bad side.

    Susan: Please do borrow it, as I'd love to see your answers! And lol, I think we all do. I'm nowhere near being able to have a place like that, but a girl can dream :P

    Kiirstin: Really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Coelho, especially because you're always so measured. And yes, I imagine that as much as I TRY not to be judgemental, I'll have to watch myself closely once I start work (weee!). The temptation will always be there, but as long as we're aware of why we shouldn't jump to conclusions about readers I think we'll be okay.

    Caroline: You've made me want to read it even more!

    Tasha: yay! Please do :D

    Charlie: These days I see blogging as part of the reading process (as in, I don't feel I'm truly done with a book until I've written about it), so it only makes sense :D

    Valentina: As Kiirstin was also saying, I'm sure being a library poses some very specific challenges in this regard - as I'll soon learn :P (Insert squeeing here)

    Jessica: I hope you do answer them!

    Debi: I honestly have no idea how that happened, because it's not like my 14-year-old self was immune to that brand of brooding, effed up romantic appeal :P Anyway, I also want to reread it because I'd like for the story to be clearer in my mind than it currently is. Even if I still dislike it I want to be able to critique it properly.

  22. Jeanne: Reading Railsea earlier this year made me want to try Moby Dick, but I still find it a bit daunting. Probably I need to convince someone to be my reading buddy for it.

  23. Completely as an aside, for those of you considering Moby Dick, here's the first thing ever that I've read that makes me want to read it:

    That said, I might also be quite interested in listening to the thing, through the link Zimmer provides.

  24. Your ideal home library really does sound ideal- I always said I wanted a room full of pillows and beanbags specifically for sitting down to read!
    I think it's great that you plan your reading list- I need to work on managing my time between school and work because I'm not getting all the reading I want done!

  25. I'm with you with the re-reading. Since I started blogging, I think I've only re-read one book a year. Terrible. So I'm planning to read at least two next year. One step at a time, right?

  26. great insight into you ,I really enjoyed call the midwife was something both amanda and I like which is rare ,all the best stu

  27. Kiirstin: Carl Zimmer! Say no more :D

    Mariana: Beanbags are the best, aren't they? I don't have one where I'm currently living and miss the one I used to have terribly. As for planning my reading, all I can say is that it doesn't always work :P

    Sakura: Yes, one step at a time! Two is certainly better than one :P

    Stu: I watched it with M (bf) and we both really enjoyed it too. Fingers crossed there's a second series based on Worth's follow-up memoirs.

  28. 20 books on your Christmas list? awesome!:D

  29. Oh man, I can't help it, I love Morton's books. They are just big fat fun mysteries. We can't all love the same things though.

    I'm with you on Wuthering Heights. I couldn't stand it, but it has been so long since I read it I think I should give it another chance.

  30. Mobb: I don't want to get them ALL or anything - it's just good to have options, right? :P

    Melissa: To each their own and all that! I don't know why she irks me as much as she does, but I can't help it :P


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.