Monday, October 20, 2008

A Book Survey

Norm Geras recently answered a series of questions about reading that he found on someone else's blog. Here's my go at it:

What was the last book you bought?

The Stillborn God by Mark Lilla. I tend to buy several books a month -- it’s an addiction -- so the last one bought tends to be pretty random, though I do intend on reading the Lilla soon.

Name a book you have read more than once.

I very rarely read a book more than once -- there’s so much to read, after all, and there’s always the chance that something will disappoint a second time around. But I’ve read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy three times, I believe.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

If the key word here is “fundamentally,” it might be tough to come up with one. But of course, many books have “slightly” changed the way I see life -- isn’t that one of the points of reading? Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, The Brothers K by David James Duncan, and The Undiscovered Mind by John Horgan are four that come to mind.

Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?

As I get older, I find myself reading more nonfiction, but I don’t have a strong preference and still read a lot of fiction. It’s fair to say that fiction has to do more to impress me than it used to. Like most people, I suspect, the books I love the most are novels.

What's more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

Both, please. But if I had to choose, there’s no question I'd go with the writing, which alone can be gripping. But as Norm Geras said, this choice “leaves out something at least as important as either, namely, perceptiveness about human character and motive.”

Most loved/memorable character.

Loved: Everett Chance (The Brothers K), John Grady Cole (All the Pretty Horses), Ned Hall (The Risk Pool), Tom Ripple (It’s All Right Now)

Memorable: Frank Bascombe (Richard Ford’s “Bascombe trilogy”), Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces), Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), Briony Tallis (Atonement), John Self (Money)

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Have You Seen...? by David Thomson and Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

What was the last book you've read, and when was it?

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. Finished it about a week ago. I’m now reading What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

Sure. I almost gave up on Pnin -- it started and finished strong, but I found its middle an incredible bore. Luckily, it’s less than 200 pages, so I powered through. On the rare occasions I do abandon something, it’s usually well before I’m half way in. Can’t remember any I gave up on at the moment (I tend to vet things reasonably well before I start them), but it’s happened.


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