Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Stop-What-Youre-ReadingTitle: Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

Author: Various

Summary: In any 24 hours there might be sleeping, eating, kids, parents, friends, lovers, work, school, travel, deadlines, emails, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, the news, the TV, Playstation, music, movies, sport, responsibilities, passions, desires, dreams.

Why should anyone stop what they’re doing and read a book?

People have always needed stories. We need literature because we need to make sense of our lives, test our depths, understand our joys, and discover what humans are capable of. Great books can provide companionship when we are lonely, or peacefulness in the midst of an overcrowded daily life. Reading provides a unique kind of pleasure and no one should live without it.

In the ten essays in this book some of our finest authors and passionate advocates from the worlds of science, publishing, technology, and social enterprise tell us about the experience of reading, why access to books should never be taken for granted, how reading transforms our brains, and how literature can save lives. In any 24 hours there are so many demands on your time and attention – make books one of them.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love books about books, about reading and about the shared joy i experience with others who love books. This book, unfortunately, didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Very few of the essays in this book really stood out for me. Considering most of the authors are professional writers, i felt they did a pretty poor-to-average job of capturing the unique joy of reading we bookworms experience. Some of the essays focused on the author’s childhood and experience with books and reading as they grew up. A few included another focus, instead of the simply enjoyment reading brings, some chose to highlight how vital the ability is, how access to books is key. And though these were interesting and i agree with them, they didn’t evoke The Feeling or make a lasting impression on me.

The two essays i really enjoyed were the last two.

The Dreams of Readers by Nicholas Carr, though somewhat awkwardly written and including an abundance of direct quotes from others, captured the idea of books being both an escape to lose yourself in, and also an influence which transforms the reader. It talks about each reader bring their own experiences and interpretations to a book, and therefore each experiencing a different reading of the narrative. It’s a pretty simple and acceptable idea, but not one that’s often thought about or discussed.

To me that leads to questions about the subtleties and unique aspects of language; with such an array of connotations to words, meanings and inflection, can we ever know if we’re truly understanding each other?

Then Questions for a Reader by Dr Maryanne Wolf and Dr Mirit Barzillai takes the concept of reading transforming the the reader even further. They consider the history of the written word, how philosophers feared it spelt the end of individuals thinking for themselves, or thinking critically about the information presented to them. As we’ve proven since then, that’s not the case. But they also ponder the future of reading, with more reading happening online. When more words and information is only a click away and adverts and cat gifs are vying for the reader’s attention, how will this affect critical thinking?

In this case, I think the essay gives far too much credit and influence to the work and to the web. It assumes how the presentation of information changes is the only factor, rendering the consumer passive and easily influenced. I would argue the result depends more so on the reader. The reader has to want to critically engage with what they’re reading, and if they do, no amount of reddit or wikipedia links will deter them from that.

Overall, though, this book lacked the magic for me. It felt forced. It felt a little gimmicky. A “look, a book about books, you should read it!” attempt at selling a book, rather than a book that was genuinely about exploring people’s love of reading and trying to capture that feeling we get.

The Paper Men

tpmTitle: The Paper Men

Author: William Golding

Summary: Fame, success, fortune; a drink problem slipping over the borderline into alcoholism, a dead marriage, the incurable itches of middle-aged lust. For Wilfred Barclay, novelist, the final, unbearable irritation is Professor Rick L. Tucker, implacable in his determination to become The Barclay Man.

Locked in a lethal relationship they stumble half-blindly across Europe, shedding wives, self-respect, illusions. They confront terrifying abysses – physical, emotional, spiritual – continually change roles, change themselves, change the worlds about them. The climax, when it comes, is as inevitable as it is unexpected.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Golding is an author who’s work i am making my way through at a sedate pace. I haven’t loved every book i’ve read so far, but i have liked, appreciated and admired them all. He’s an author who doesn’t stick to the same genre, format or message. Each of his books is unique, and i love that. The Paper Men was, gladly, another score for the ‘love’ list.

I was apprehensive at first, as i had read some pretty damning reviews. The only thing those bad reviews liked was the ending; they adored the last line. Unfortunately, as i am wont to do, i had already flipped to the last page and read the last line. So i knew going in exactly how this book ended. (Therefore it was not at all as unexpected as the synopsis claimed–they never take into account people skipping ahead!) But screw all the bad reviews–this book was brilliant!

There is humour–oh, so much humour, i laughed loud and often. There is meaningfulness, introspection, commentary. How people can gloss over or miss that and complain that not enough happened makes their taste and intelligence poor, if i’m being honest in my own opinion.

I adored Wilf. I’m not sure i was supposed to, but there we have it. He isn’t perfect, by any means, but he is unapologetically himself, and hurts almost no one but himself. Almost, except those closest to him (though whether he is close to them is debatable), and of course Rick L. Tucker. Wilf travels the world on no whim but his own, drinking, sleeping and writing. He makes no demands on people, letting the wind take him wherever it decides to blow. Rick L. Tucker, on the other hand, goes exactly where Wilf does. His obsessive, stalker, relentless behaviour really, really bothered me. He just wouldn’t give up chasing Wilf around, trying to convince him to let him be his official biographer. How many times can Wilf say, “No,” and disappear to another country before Rick gets the message? Never enough, apparently. Sorry, but harassment is not an endearing quality, and for all Wilf’s faults, i’ll take him over Tucker any day.

That covers the plot, really. The rest of the interest of the book is more Wilf’s mind and thoughts, so i supposed having a soft spot for Wilf makes me more inclined to enjoy his words and the book itself. He is very much a writer, often comparing the world to how things would be done in one of his novels, and offering insight into the mind of a writer. He tos and fros between thought processes, opinions on himself, and choices and reasons. He’s an intellectual and literary man, and he’s also one of the most unreliable narrators i have ever read. His words were a joy, his drinking problem worrisome but occasionally controlled, his paranoia palpable but relatively harmless. He was, ultimately, fascinating.

There is, really, only one point of criticism i have of The Paper Men. As much as i loved reading it when i was reading, when i wasn’t reading, i had no drive to get back to it. I didn’t think about the book when i wasn’t reading it. When i picked it up again i often had to re-read the last paragraph of the previous chapter to remind myself of the exact circumstances it had left of on. And while this didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book when i was reading it, i did miss that burn–that desire to still be reading and to know what happens. I missed it enough to be distinctly aware that it wasn’t there.

But still, the book itself, regardless of my emotions towards it when i put it down, is thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and such a hoot. I loved some sections so much that when i did have a pencil to mark passages i… i used a pen! And i don’t regret a single inked line.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Published in my birth year.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

yellowTitle: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

Author: Lewis Buzbee

Summary: In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore—the smell and touch of books, the joy of getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through the Weekly Reader in grade school. Woven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade—from the great Alexandria library with an estimated one million papyrus scrolls to Sylvia Beach’s famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., that led to the extraordinary effort to publish and sell James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: A book about books. Why have i never read one of these before? I loved it. I loved seeing things i feel and experience, but have rarely taken the time to think about put down in words, analysed and expressed.

This is aimed at anyone with a love of books, and i mean books—not just reading them, but their physical presence. It explores the joy of bookshops, of slowly taking your time to look around and enjoy being surrounded by books, of picking them up and flicking through them, of simply spending time around them.

It’s also a memoir of the author’s life around books. From working in local bookshops for many years, to becoming a sale rep and more, it’s obvious how much Buzbee loves books. As much as i loved books before i read this book, Buzbee’s love of them in infectious, and i definitely finished the book with an even higher appreciate and interest in them.

The third aspect of the book is the history of books. On its own, this would have been very dry and uninspired, but the history is presented seamlessly amongst the love of books and Busbee’s life with books. It made the historical facts interesting and fun, like little stories of their own. My favourite was the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop in Paris, how it came about, how it stayed about, how it published and distributed Ulysses and how and why it eventually shut its doors. I think i would read a book entirely about that (is there one?).

Ultimately, what made this book such an enjoyable read was Buzbee’s writing. His love of books shone through and you can’t help but get caught up in his enthusiasm. Reading this book was like being snuggled in a warm blanket. I didn’t want it to end.