Select, Salivate, Read and Savor

I am an excellent reader. When I can’t think of what to write, then I just fuhgeddaboudit and read a book instead. I’ve actually become a bit of a book snob. Not snobby in the sense that I can only read “literature” or best sellers, or award winners, or that I even know what I’m talking about when it comes to books. No, I’m just snobby in the sense that I try only to select books that really interest me, because I find that reading for pleasure is still an effort for me.

I love to read, but it’s an effort? Sounds like a contradiction, so let me explain. I’m not the kind of person that sits down and reads for hours until I finish a book in the wee hours of the morning. I might as well just pop a sleeping pill and go to bed. There are few books that could truly keep me awake if I was tired, and I am always tired. I read in spurts, chapters here and there, always anxious about the next short block of time I can carve out just for reading. I sometimes read during my lunch hour, in the car at soccer practice, or before I go to bed at night. My progression through a book is a little like watching a soap opera, except that unlike watching soaps, eventually I do finish the stories.

This technique is known in scientific circles as SSRS. That’s no BS, truly. You can tell that’s no BS because there are no vowels in either SSRS or BS, so it must be true. It goes like this – SSRS – select, salivate (um, figuratively), read, and savor. After going through this process, then I rush to the book shelf to start over… SSRS. So exciting! Yeah, I really don’t get out so much…

It sounds hokey, but to me reading a book is a little like opening a door and stepping into a different reality … what’s behind door number one? Number two? Lots of little doors I have opened this year so far, fourteen to be exact. A modest accomplishment for some people, but I’m pretty sure it’s a record for me, and it’s still just October.

I try to finish every single book I start, so I definitely don’t want to select a stinker because I will feel compelled to read it anyway. After all, someone spent a year to write the dang thing, I should at least be willing to spend a few hours a week to read it. Not sure why I’m like that, maybe I don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings. Only a couple of times in my entire life have I started a book (meaning, a novel) that I didn’t finish, and deep down I felt a little guilty when I closed those books and decided to put them back on the shelf. One of the books was as dull as dry toast. I don’t remember a thing about it except reading words for about ten pages and suddenly thinking, I am reading this book but the story is missing. Then skipping back a few pages and trying to find the story. Forward ho again for twenty more pages, and then, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’m so sorry, nameless author, I couldn’t finish your nameless storyless book. The other one, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Definitely a story here, but I couldn’t get past the first five pages. I attempted it because it is my friend Carrie’s favorite book (or one of them) and, of course, it’s a classic. I enjoy classic literature sometimes, but this one is more difficult than most. Either that, or I am not such an excellent reader after all. Or maybe I wasn’t in the mood to think so deeply.  Whatever, that book is a bi-atch! It still sits on my shelf, daring me to pick it up, and I will… someday.

So, check out the books I’ve read on the Just Books tab, if you wish. That tab holds a few of my excuses for not writing regular posts for my blog. There are about a million other excuses why I don’t post regularly, but that’s another blog post. Still, my blog tugs at me from time to time, when I ignore it for weeks on end. It is like a living being begging me for attention, not so different from Zoe bringing me a smelly sock. Write me, it says. No, I’m reading, I say. Then bite me, it says, but I just can’t listen to such negativity.

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Check out my Book-o-Meter.  It’s a no-plots-foiled-bare-bones-just-my-opinion rating system.  Strictly thumbs up, thumbs down, sort of.  As an added bonus, I’ll bestow an annual award on my favorite pick of the year.  Truly, you don’t want to miss this.

I tried to include all the books I have read since I started this blog, may have missed one or two.  For those of you who read a book or more a week, you’ll notice that I don’t.  If you check out this page weekly, you will get bored.  If you check out this page monthly you won’t miss anything.  If you don’t ever check out this page, you will clearly miss out on the fun.  Did I say fun?  Yes, I did.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

 

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Here marks a departure from my normal book reviews.  Not just because I hated this book, because I did, but because book reviews smack too much of work.  So, here’s a quick one, just to document that I read the thing, disgusting though it was.

Everyone knows the subject matter of this book.  An older man, (I’m assuming he was 40 to 50-ish), falls in love with a young girl, or as he prefers to call her, his Lolita, his little “nymphet.”  Humbert Humbert (HH) referred to all young attractive girls as nymphets.  By young, I mean 9 to 13, any girl much older than that and he just wasn’t interested.  That ought to have been enough, and should have prevented me from reading the tale in its entirety, but onward I read.  The book was not graphic by any stretch, not one curse word, no vulgar descriptions, although it was obvious what was going on.  I think the only reason I kept on reading is because I wanted to see how HH finally hung himself, meaning, I so wanted the sick bastard to get caught.  

Written from the viewpoint of HH himself, the book focused primarily on his mental make-up, how he was unable to control his thoughts and feelings.  Nothing from the viewpoint of the girl.  To the author’s credit, he did make HH cognizant that his behavior was sick and deviant.  HH couldn’t stop himself, so we are supposed to sympathize?  No sympathy here, except for Lolita, who he ruined in his sick quest for love. 

Although the author was a gifted writer, the subject matter is too controversial and detestable to me.  I don’t know why I read it, would never read it again, and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else!   Enough said about that one.

Now, I’m shipping it off.  I joined the Paperback Swap book club last year.  I just got a message that some other poor sucker wants to read Lolita.  Paperback Swap is cool.  It’s an online book swapping club (I know, you never would have guessed …).  Literally millions of books on this site.  I have received numerous books, and have mailed many books to others.  That’s the only cost for books – the postage to mail your own to someone else!  Yes, they’re used books, but you just need to get on the recycling bandwagon.  Most of the books I have received look brand new.

Check it out … www.paperbackswap.com.  If you like, and want to join, drop me a line.  I can send you something that gives me a book credit for recommending a new member.  Not that I need it, as I now have so many books I’ll never finish reading them, but what the heck!

The World Below by Sue Miller

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Sue Miller is a gifted storyteller who weaves believable characters into believable situations.  In this story, her protagonist, Catherine, is a woman who struggles to come to terms with her life by delving into her family’s history.  Catherine is a divorced mom with grown children who, upon inheriting her grandmother’s house, leaves her teaching job in California to return to her childhood home in Vermont.

Catherine spent many days of her childhood at her grandparent’s, and moved into their home when she was a teenager.  Her own mother had committed suicide after suffering for years from mental illness, and her father felt incapable of caring for her and her brother, so they moved in with their grandparents.  Upon Catherine’s inheritance of the property after an aunt’s death, she discovers her grandmother’s diary, and realizes her grandmother, Georgia, was a woman she never knew.

Georgia contracted tuberculosis as a teen and was sent to a sanitarium by the family doctor, as was the custom of the day.  Georgia fell in love with a boy, Seward, who was far more ill than she was with the disease, and the diary tells of their heart-wrenching romance within the confines of the sanitarium.  As teens do, they make plans for the future, Georgia knowing that Seward’s chances for survival are slim.

The family doctor taking care of Georgia decides she is well enough to return home.  His feelings for Georgia run deeper, and he asks her to marry him.   Georgia had kept her feelings for Seward a secret from the doctor (John), and John had his own secret that he had kept from her.  They marry and live a calm and outwardly happy life together, but as the diary spells out, underneath was a current of pain and tension.

Catherine discovers more about her mother’s mental illness through the diary, and brings to rest some of the pain associated with that period of her life.  She befriends an older man that becomes her constant companion, and envisions how she can make a new life in this place.  Ultimately, she struggles with whether or not she should stay in Vermont, or sell the home and move back to her life in California.

I read another Sue Miller book years ago, While I was Gone, and I like her writing style.  She writes about people dealing with their pain and how they cope.  Her characterization of Georgia and, in particular, Georgia’s time at the sanitarium, were compelling reading, and the predominant catalyst of this story.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Lyrical, poetic, heartfelt genius, and just plain telling it like it was are all words that I could use to describe my impression of this novel.  While not a long story, it is the deep and moving account of a black woman living in the Deep South in the 1930s.  While many in this country suffered during this bleak economic time, blacks suffered the most.  Social injustice, from the limited choices any black person could make, especially a black woman, in the 1930s, to the extreme poverty blacks endured, this book is a brave exposé of the times.  Published in 1937, Ms. Hurston wrote this book when blacks were considered unequal to whites, and all women were considered unequal to men.  Even black women suffered at the hands of black men during this time, as a black woman was considered the lowest of the low on the social ladder.  Ms. Hurston forgot to tell her protagonist, Janie Crawford, that she was a black woman.  She perceived herself to be a person, not only a black woman.

As a teenager, Janie dreamed that one day she would fall in love and marry a man who loved her in return.  Raised by her grandmother, she married early, at her grandmother’s insistence.  Afraid that after she died her grandaughter would be left alone without someone to care for her, she convinced Janie to marry Logan Killicks, an older, more settled, man that Janie did not love.  Janie expected that the love would come, but it didn’t.  When another man, Joe Starks, entered Janie’s life one day, Janie decided to run away with him and they married and started a new life together in Florida.  Joe was an educated man who helped build a new “black town” and soon became its mayor and the owner of the town’s only store.  Janie worked in the store every day, and longed to be a part of the life of the town.  While Joe took care of her, he kept her at arm’s length and wouldn’t allow her to socialize much with customers at the store.  After a number of years, Joe became ill and died, leaving Janie alone.

Before long, Janie began to enjoy her life.  She met Tea Cake at the store, and they became fast friends, playing games and fishing together.  A n’er-do-well, Tea Cake was younger than her, but he treated Janie kindly, and he became the love of her life.  To the astonishment of her friends, the two married and moved to the Florida Everglades, where crops were good, and he could earn more money.  At her insistence, they soon worked side-by-side picking crops.  Tea Cake was sometimes jealous of Janie, afraid that she was attracting the attention of other men.  They fought occasionally over his jealousy, and he once slapped Janie, but their love endured.

A devastating hurricane forever changed the course of Janie’s and Tea Cake’s lives.  I will go no further here, except to say that, while the storm was a pivotal moment in the story, they both survived it.  

Ms. Hurston was a great storyteller.  I didn’t feel that I was reading a book so much as I was listening to a story.  She gave her characters the musical cadence of the old Southern Negro dialect.  I could hear their voices in my head, and often read their words out loud to see if I could match the sound in my head.  The story is of a time and culture that I cannot relate to, but through Ms. Hurston’s story, I can empathize with.  It is an important work that sheds light on that segment of American history.  According to the foreward in the book, this story was dismissed during Ms. Hurston’s life as being inadequate, and as one critic wrote at the time, it “carries no theme, no message, no thought.”  This comment came from a prominent black writer of the times, Richard Wright, a prime example of how black women were commonly dismissed by black men at the time.

About 70 years later, along came Oprah … and Ms. Hurston finally received the acclaim she deserved.