17 February 2006

I've fallen in love!

... in this case, with a book website. (One topic at a time!)

A similarly book-minded buddy recently linked to LibraryThing, a website that allows users to log, tag and visualize their libraries online as well as peek at other people's libraries and comment on them. Just to start out I catalogued the various library books, recent purchases and half-completed books I have scattered around my room. It's a little misleading, since half of them are library books and thus do not have the gorgeous (or heinous) Amazon-provided cover art, but it's a decent approximation. Looking at my "shelf" gives me both a sense of adventure, of knowledge yet to be taken in, and the urgent feeling that I ought to be reading instead of, you know, updating this blog.

So I believe I'll do just that. I hope everyone who has a long weekend for Presidents' Day enjoys it with a good book, and for the rest of you -- I'm sorry, but hopefully you can get some reading done anyway!

07 February 2006

How I Find Time

One of my friends recently asked me how I find the time to read for fun.

When I was a kid, I read literally all the time. I read in the car under streetlights (I was fortunate enough to almost never get carsick!) and on the bus to and from school, I read walking home from the library, I read under the covers despite my little sister's protestations. I read during class, and during recess (until I got caught). I even read when I was practicing the violin -- I don't recommend this, however, because it won't help you on your Juilliard app. It was my favorite form of portable entertainment -- cheap, light and endlessly renewable.

I guess it's these habits that have carried me over to the point where I rarely go anywhere without an extra book (or two!) just to fill the time. I got a lot of reading done last spring when I was in Madrid in part because I was commuting -- 45 minutes to school, then 30 minutes to my internship and 30 minutes home. Here at school I don't commute unless you count a five- to ten-minute walk to class, but I have a fair amount of time in between other things. It doesn't even have to be a book either; one of the things I love about the "New Yorker" is that it's textually very dense and also very light and easy to carry. If you don't mind looking like a complete egghead, you could take it to the gym, because unless you work out for 4 hours at a time you probably won't finish it. (Can't say the same for "Glamour," although I subscribe to that too.)

I'm not saying all this because I'm trying to brag; I'm actually a pretty slow reader, so I probably need all that extra time to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. And I certainly don't read as much as I like to during the school year, because (surprise!) I have plenty of other assigned reading to keep me occupied. But what I'm saying is, you can make time to do it, maybe before bed or during morning coffee or in that last half-hour before you leave work and when you never get anything done anyway. Maybe people might look at my textual habits and tell me I need to "get a life," but honestly, I have a life. It's just broken up by a lot of reading.

03 February 2006

The Importance of Being Earnest?

I've refrained from commenting on the James Frey controversy in this space for one specific reason: I haven't read A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, a qualification which I feel is germane to the discussion.

As a journalist I can't help but be a little angry at Frey (and other fabrications -- J. T. LeRoy, are you listening?) for exaggerating the truth to the extent that he is accused of. Obviously it isn't just Oprah who despises being lied to; we all do, and Frey's efforts to claim the "memoir" as a new style of writing which has little to do with nonfiction is just ridiculous. Just because Lillian Hellman did it doesn't mean it's okay, buddy! And I can understand how so many readers (like this guy, who bought the book just before the storm hit) feel duped, especially those who found inspiration in Frey's tale of how (allegedly, and this is a parenthesis I hate) he pulled himself out of drug addiction on his own. My favorite piece of damning evidence is the statement that Frey had shopped the book as fiction before shopping it as nonfiction, and while I'd like to believe he did a thorough edit in between, it's doubtful he even did a Search and Replace. (And don't get me started on his publisher-mandated author's note.)

But I think there are two different issues here, the outrage over what Frey did and the demotion in value of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES as a result, and I'm having trouble reconciling the two. Some of the devaluation seems to say that nothing that isn't true is valuable, and I resent that. I mean, I know there is no real Lily Bart, but that didn't stop me from enjoying THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, or identifying with Bart for that matter. If people are put off by Frey's deceitful behavior and thus choose not to read his books, I can understand that. But why can't a work of fiction have the same life-changing effect on people as nonfiction? I think this is a fairly recent attitude, and a troubling one, that one can't be inspired by fiction in the same way as with nonfiction. When I think about my childhood literary heros, most were fictional (those kids in Narnia, Christopher Chant of Diana Wynne Jones' books) or quasifictional (the Ingalls girls belonging in the latter category, I imagine), even though I owned and loved biographies of Mother Teresa, Anne Bradstreet and other figures. Now that I'm grown, can I not find similar figures that move in books like THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA or THE WOMEN'S ROOM, because they're fiction?

Once again I end with more questions than answers. I'm not advocating feeling sorry for Frey, but rather speaking on behalf of any readers (and there must be some!) who find merit in his book aside from its contrast with the police reports.