Every once in a while, I find myself utterly uninspired to continue my slavish self-enforced curriculum of reading. I'll ask myself why and what for? When I'm on my deathbed, will I say, "I'm so glad I forced myself to read the Twilight series and that book of Twilight criticism; I can die in peace knowing that I understand the ins and outs of that unfortunate zeitgeist." Occasionally, I need a little inspiration, a little reminder of why I read so much and why I read what I read. In my reading (hah!), I came across this New York Times bit in which Lena Dunham shares her reading habits and decided that talking (or writing) about books might get me excited to do more of it. So, here I go. (And if you'd like to play along, leave a link in the comments; I'd love to read!)
1. When & where do you read?
I do most of my reading on buses, and, lucky for me, my daily commute is butt-numbingly long. I sometimes find it difficult to concentrate on reading while at home, particularly if Wolfman is around. But, I love porch reading (in my rocking chair, with tea [iced or hot, depending on the season], and either barefoot or snuggled under an afghan [depending on the season]). In fact, sometimes I read aloud on the porch and get startled and embarrassed by neighbors.
2. What are your reading habits? Paper or electronic? Do you take notes? Do you snack while you read?
I underline, highlight, write notes in margins, keep a dictionary nearby: all of the above. I do not snack (though I snack at all other junctures of my day). I find it exceptionally difficult to read long text off computer screens of any kind; when I find articles or essays online, or even long-form blog updates, I actually print them out (the environmentalist shame!). E-readers are not something I will ever be interested in. Ever.
3. What was the last truly great book you read? Do you remember the last time you said to some one, "You absolutely must read this book"?
At the moment, I'm half way through Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose, a truly exceptional read. But don't take my word for it; it just happened to win a Pulitzer in 1971. (Are Pulitzer Prizes a thing--like, do you take that seriously? I'd never thought about them until I learned that this year no Pulitzer prize for fiction was awarded; that fact actually legitimized the award for me, though I do think the complaints and suggestions lodged by this year's fiction judges are valid.)
4. What's your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
I pride myself in reading a little bit of everything--or, at least, I am the literary equivalent of that statement, "I listen to everything that's not country or rap." (Though, typically, if I hear somebody say that, or I read it on a person's Facebook profile, I tend to cancel that person out as a friend or intelligent human being. What I mean is that I'll read anything that's not a Stieg Larsson novel.) Lately, I have been particularly keen on fantasy, but I don't feel guilty about that.
5. Have you ever read a book about girls or women that made you disappointed or just extremely annoyed?
Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series is about as unfeminist as books can be. Bella Swan is an utterly passive character, manipulated by controlling men who happen to be supernaturals. I could handle that, however, were it not for the fact that a generation of young women are reading these books and possibly being brainwashed. Note to young girls everywhere: Your boyfriend is not the most important thing about you. Also, sex is not a horror show; it can be totally fun [just make sure you're ready, don't let yourself feel pressured, and use protection!].
6. And what's the best book about girls you've ever read?
Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons (the first of her Enchanted Forest Chronicles). I first read it when I was in the 4th grade (in a childhood with relatively little time spent reading), and it was perhaps my first exposure to out-and-out feminism. Princess Cimorene makes it very clear that she is not interested in being saved by knights; she'd much rather make cherries jubilee, befriend dragons, and defeat evil wizards.
7. If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Or, really, any book involving food politics and the importance of eating local and homesteading. But, Barbara Kingsolver's is a lovely read.
8. What's your all-time favorite movie based on a book? The worst?
I'm quite keen on the Harry Potter movies, particularly "Prisoner of Azkaban". I know there are purists out there, all pissy because plot points were missing or rearranged from book to movie, but the various directors all, I believe, did such an incredible job bringing JK Rowling's world to life. Just last night I rewatched "Deathly Hallows Part 1" for the first time since seeing it in the theatre, and I was once again floored by the attention to detail, and the way mood and tone was so perfectly translated from the books. Plus, these are just breathtakingly beautiful movies. I love all of them. The worst has to be "Cold Mountain", though I should admit that I've never actually watched the movie. I just really love that book and cannot, will not, accept Jude Law as Inman.
9. What book makes you laugh?
I chuckle fairly frequently while reading Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books. I also giggled myself silly both times I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder's children's book, The Headless Cupid.
10. What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from one of those books? Is there one book you wish all kids would read?
As I mentioned above: 1) Didn't read much as a kid, and 2) But did read Dealing with Dragons, and it helped make me the hellion I am today. I also read E.B. White's Trumpet of the Swan, which sparked my life-long devotion for naturalism, environmentalism, and animal rights. Charlotte's Web is a standard for children, but having read and reread them both as an adult (as well as Stuart Little), I think, thematically, Trumpet of the Swan is the more important book for young readers to consume.
11. Disappointing, overrated, just not good. What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like and didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
It is exceptionally rare that I don't finish a book--I'm somewhat compulsive about finishing my reads, no matter how torturous they may be. I, however, did not finish reading Candace Bushnell's Sex & The City. I love the television show, so wanted, as is my habit, to explore the source material--but beyond being poorly written, the book is shallow and off-putting. As I wrote in my original review, Candace Bushnell is no Carrie Bradshaw. As far as books being overrated: in college, I was forced on numerous occasions to read William Faulkner, John Updike, and Philip Roth, all of whom I despise passionately--Faulkner for form (or lack thereof), and Updike and Roth because they are so nauseatingly lauded, so heavy-handed, yet neither of them can write a real, human depiction of a woman.
12. Would you like to write a book? If you could write a book about anything, what would it be?
Of course I would like to write a book. I'd like to write a series of young adult fantasy with a spunky female protagonist (again with the influence of Dealing with Dragons), but what I'll end up slaving away at one day, I'm sure, is a memoir exploring, in depth, my abandonment and mother issues (like we need another one of those, amiright?).
13. What's the one book you wish someone else would write?
13. What's the one book you wish someone else would write?
My grandma, on a whim one day, started writing a short story about women and travel and witchery--it's incredible. I'd like her to expand on it, finish it, and publish it. She doesn't have much confidence in her ability to write, but, truly, it is so good. Also, I want to see so many more novelizations of television shows and movies. Of the very few books I read as a kid, one of them was the novelization of "Fright Night", and it blew my mind.
14. If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know? Have you ever written an author?
I want to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. I think she and I could be friends.
15. What do you plan to read?
My to-read list, I swear, is about 300 books long, and broken up by category (fiction, non-fiction & memoir, children's literature, etc.). But, in the immediate future, I have plans to start George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series (though I'm currently in the middle of too many other fantasy series [Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth, The Wicked Years, The Sisters Grimm, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, Dark Reflections]). I also have plans to dip my toes into The Hunger Games and see what all the hype is about.