Thursday, May 17, 2007

A reader’s dialogic

Recommendations, debates, laughs. Who do you talk books with? Lately my thoughts have been percolating over reading relationships. Who do you consider to have an impact on your reading habits? With the surprising number of people who don’t read it’s always heartening to show up early at the annual charity book-sale to discover that fellow booklovers have camped out for hours. It always strikes me with a sense of kindred bibliomania despite the feelings of envy I experience on realising they’ll get first dibs. Nevertheless – fellow booklovers should unite – so here’s a list of my reading relations:

Me. I try not to talk to myself, but alas. Seriously though, in terms of selecting books, I think my reading rides the tangent of being in the moment. I should hang my head – because I don’t think I’m a successful list-maker or challenge girl. If you were to map my selections, you’d notice multiple and intersecting interests complicated by my many reading moods. Often I’ll remember a book in association with what I was doing at the time or what stage of life I was at. With the reading process, half the fun is that immersion in another world, relating it back to yourself and making interconnections between the fictional world and your own. As Walter Savage Landor says: “What is reading but silent conversation?.”

Uni is a mixed bag in terms of book discussions. Surprisingly, not everyone who is majoring in English likes to read. Yes, I was shocked too. It really depends on the dynamic of the tutorial group. Textual analysis is the most sexy focus for me – more so than secondary readings – the most exciting part of studying literature at uni. Quality of discussion plummets when people haven’t read the book. It is disconcerting when you are doing an interactive presentation in class and ask, ‘so what did everyone think of the ending in Jude the Obscure?’ when people haven't read the book. If the majority of the class hasn’t got past page ten, silence and aversion of the eyes is the response. Generally, tutorials proceed well. At the moment, I’m juggling a few English units so excluding critical theory, I often have a few books/films/plays/poems set as required reading each week

Customers. Working in a bookstore, the opportunity to discuss books is a daily affair. I love book-club ladies. Yes, I’m being gender exclusive in specifying ladies, because I’ve never had a man approach me for book-club recommendations. Usually book-club ladies have ploughed through a number of well-acclaimed and known books and will happily talk books. Making recommendations, I have the tricky task of finding something 1) that’s good 2) they haven’t already read and 3) that we have multiple copies of.

Sometimes customers will recommend something for me to read in return. This has led to a few rewarding discoveries, and is part responsible for turning me into a Murakami maniac. Other times, I’ll flash the customer a self-enforced smile-and-nod combo but inwardly shudder. If I get told to read The Secret one more time I’ll go crazzzzy!

Mates. Or Friends. My aussie nationality betrays me. I have a mix of bibliophilic (more, more, more!) and bibliophobic (ain’t read any a book in me life) friends. One or two of my friends in the bookstore are readers. My best mate has really divergent reading tastes – hardcore fantasy and the like - so we don’t often talk books, with the exception of philosophy texts in first year. Miss Chevalier and have ongoing textual updates about our current reads. Yesterday she sent me a text, reproduced here in SMS form:

“Started reading Jerzy Kosinki’s the painted bird last night. Can’t do it. Too sadistic and creepy. Supposed to be a comment on ww2 etc but ick … Have you heard of him?”

Each week we keep each other up-to-date via text messages. Miss C once said that before she met me she had thought she was alone with her book obsession, but I make her feel less guilty about her insatiable desire for quality books.

Internet: Lit blogs. Thanks guys! You make me feel justified in my obsessive quest for reading material. I started this blog to help me keep track of my reading bildungsroman but also because I was a serial lurker on lit blogs. My list of desired books, based on reviews from my fave blogs is growing exponentially. As soon as exams finish I’m going to draft a list of Great Books I Must Read Because Fellow Bloggers Have Intrigued Me. Of course, I’ll post when completed. Literary Blogs are about the extent of my online reading interactions. Facebook, I thought, would rock my world. I joined a few groups like Reading is Sexy and a Steinbeck Fan Club but nothing really eventuated from it.

Anyway, that’s my list of literary companions. Does your list differ from mine? I’m off to read some more of Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French, as I avoid the three major essays that await me…


Eva said...

I began my freshman year at college-now I'm a senior. It's one of my majors.

I speak it quite comfortably (six months in Russia'll do that, plus my dad speaks Russian, so I can keep it up), but I'm not fluent. Especially, I can't read old literature like Tolstoy in Russian because the language has changed so much. Even Soviet lit requires a whole new vocab. And I'm studying Russian primarily in an international relations sense, so I can read a newspaper easily, to the detriment of lit. I can read Chekhov, though, pretty easily-his language is beautiful but simple.

acquisitionist said...

It must be wonderful to read Chekhov - and at least attempt to read the other Russians in the original. Australian author Robert Dessaix is well worth a look for those fascinated with Russian. I'm not sure how well he's known outside of Australian literary circles though. A professor of Russian, Dessaix has several interesting books which interweave discussion of Russian literature with other literary landscapes. I have reviewd Corfu before which wasn't his best but might be good if you are feeling like Chekhov. If you are interested check out Dark Orpheus's review of Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev :

Dark Orpheus said...

Hi, just found this link to a pdf copy of Murakami's Pinball 1973 - it's been out of print for ages, and I couldn't find a copy anywhere!
In case you're interested:

I work in a bookstore too, and I feel your pain on The Secret. OMG, are people really that naive?

But what's great about my colleagues is finding out that in an event of an earthquake, most of us will be crushed to death by our bookshelves - and we actually think it's a good way to go.

One day, a colleague who was at home reading Flaubert just had to text me while I was working: "Oh that Emma! What a silly girl!" Sometimes you just had to share what you've read, and it's good to have people around who will understand what you're talking about.

My uni mates are my first experience of a fellowship of readers though. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who read, who loves reading, even if we haven't all read the same books. I was introduced to Calvino and Robertson Davies by a uni mate. From my uni mates, I first learnt of Raymond Carver, Roger Zelazny, and Wislawa Szymborska.

But from my customers at the bookstore, I first learnt of Sarah Turnbull's "Almost French" :)

Happy reading.

Bybee said...

Great blog entry, LA! Very smart to remember to count yourself as an influence. I would've left that completely out.

Imagine my dismay when I became an English teacher, and all the English teachers were in the teachers' lounge having lunch. Positive that I'm finally in Heaven, I bring up reading and how much I love books. Tepid response. I couldn't believe it. After that, I didn't feel comfortable eating in there anymore because I felt I'd revealed something too intimate. Thank God and George Bush (in this case) for budget cuts and layoffs (mine). Oh good! You've got a "word verification" that I can read and copy easily! Thanks, LA!

Julie said...

Interesting question! I just joined a mailing list for Patrick O'Brian fans. It's pretty impressive. I'm getting around 100 emails a day from people who adore POB as much as I do. The strange part about being on a mailing list, as opposed to reading litblogs, is that you don't know anything about the other people except their name and email address. But this is an interesting way to connect with like-minded bookworms and I'm looking forward to exploring it more.

P.S. Good luck with your driving test! ;)

Brad said...

I'm tagging you for the "Eight random things about me" meme. The rules are in a recent post on my site (and many other sites over the last day or two). There is no obligation, but I suspect that your list will be an interesting read.

CoversGirl said...

What Brad said . . . I've tagged you too!

meli said...

And me and me - I'm tagging you too! (this way you can kill three birds with the one stone) :)

acquisitionist said...

Hey Dark Orpheus, thanks for sharing the link. I hadn't heard of Pinball so I'm sure it will make for some interesting reading. On a murakami note, apparently there's a new book. Have you seen it? Usually it takes longer for books to come out in Aust so maybe the time I get back from my trip...

Your colleagues sound great. Death by bookshelves is definitely a noble way to go! I'm glad you share my frustrations re: the secret too.

Bybee, that would have been so disappointing. I'm glad you vacated the staffroom - more time for reading alone anyway! Where's the passion for the subject there? In my bookstore, a few people don't really read. I can't understand it!

I'm glad the word verification works ok. I admit that on many blogs it often takes me three or four times before I copy the letters correctly.

Julie, that sounds like a great idea! I will investigate to see if any of my fave authors are in a similar mailing list endeavour.

brad, coversgirl and meli, I thought I had escaped the meme madness. Will post soon. Look forward to reading your lists.

meli said...

Hey, great list! I'm posting here because you seem to have disabled comments on the above post. I think it's a blip in blogger at the moment - I did it the other day, and you're not the only one it's happened to... Your hair sounds cool. Some of my cousins have hair like that.

acquisitionist said...

Hey thanks for letting me know about the comment thing. I'm not very blogger savvy so I didn't notice. My hair is definitely a curse and a blessing.

dew said...

What a great post. It was especially enjoyable to read because I'd have mostly the same answers. Unlike bybee, though, the English teachers I know are always up for a good book discussion. They all belong to at least one or two book groups, so they're happy to test out what they want to say at book group on someone else first. ;) And even though I don't work in a bookshop, I find bookshop employees some of my favorite people to talk books with.

Matt said...

Great post, got me thinking about my influences. I think my main influence is myself as well. I also am influenced by lit blogs. That's about it right now, I guess maybe bookstore sites like Amazon give me ideas as well. I'd like to be able to say my wife but we have quite different tastes...

acquisitionist said...

Thanks dew. I'd definitely prefer to mix with English teachers who are avid readers. Hopefully that will be my experience when I go into teaching

Matt, great input, I also use Amazon as a 'research' tool. Every now and then I'll look at the Amazon reviews when weighing up whether to purchase a book. I also like the eclectic lists that people contribute. Collations like 'revere John Steinbeck' can make for endless entertainment.