When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued by its premise, as I never go anywhere without at least one or two books in my bag and am a confirmed book lover and avid reader. If I go on vacation, I pack a bag just for the dozen or so books that I simply must take along with me. I am most comfortable when I am surrounded by books. In fact, I look forward to retirement, so that I will have more time to read. I simply love to read! I cannot imagine a world without books and, quite frankly, I have never understood people who say that they do not care to read.
So, this book seemed to be right up my alley. Well, the author does not disappoint, as she takes the reader along with her on her very personal journey. Her goal, not an overly ambitious one, is a book a week for fifty-two weeks. She does not necessarily stick to her list of books, and she meanders along, changing course in mid-stream sometimes, as many of us so often do. Yet, she always keeps up an entertaining discourse on the book that she is reading or has read, remarking upon its place in her world. She interweaves snippets of her personal life with her thoughts on those books that she reads. She talks about authors and the impact that some of their work has had on her, as well as her reading likes and dislikes.
The author writes in a light and breezy conversational tone, so that, at times, it almost seems as if one old friend were talking to another about some books she had enjoyed. I was delighted to discover that we liked many of the same books for many of the same reasons. Within the pages of this book, I also happily discovered some new titles that piqued my interest. Moreover, the author, knowing how insatiable some book lovers are, even appends three lists at the end of her book, which lists consist of books she had planned to read during that year of reading, books she actually did read but did not discuss in her book, and books in her must read pile. What book lover is not familiar with that ubiquitous must read pile of books! Anyway, I did enjoy perusing through her lists, looking for books of interest.
This book is a light-hearted sojourn into the world of reading and books that is meant to be a sharing of a wonderful passion. It is a funny and charming work of non-fiction. I thank the author for sharing her thoughts and insights, as I very much enjoyed reading them. It is, as always, a pleasure to come across such an enthusiastic fellow book lover.
on 17 January 2009
Sara Nelson sets out with noble intentions. A devout reader during both her working and personal life, she decides to set herself the goal of reading a book a week for a year, writing a journal of her bookish habits, reading choices and general reflections as she goes. From idle moments and snatched pages to family vacations and whole insomnia-ridden nights, this book is the resulting chronicle of her project.
This is definitely a book lover's book - which may explain why I found this second reading so much more enjoyable than the first, a few years ago. I have more bookish knowledge and hundreds more books' worth of reading experience behind me these days, so I appreciated more of Nelson's choices and reading reactions this time around. I've heard of more of the books, read some of the same titles, and am more immersed in the literary world online, and thus I found I had significantly more to relate to.
In a way, reading Nelson's book is a little like being part of a book blog, a book club or an online reading community - it's made all the more enjoyable by the fact that in the back of your mind there's a quiet chant of "One of us, one of us" making you feel like a part of the action. I recognised many of the author's bookish habits as my own - the myriad ways of choosing books, the building of book piles and compiling of lists, and the art of reading `just one more chapter' at night until your eyes start to close of their own accord - and I recognised too the reluctance to loan out books, the way book hype can be more offputting than appealing, and the discomfort that stems from a friend enthusiastically lending you an 'amazing' book that you really don't want to read.
Obviously, as will always happen when two readers clash, there are areas on which Nelson liked to dwell that didn't interest me. That is an inescapable part of interacting with other book lovers, whether you are in a book club or reading a blog. There were certain books that I would never pick up, and certain themes that related to her life that wouldn't relate to mine. Sometimes she might read an autobiography that was evidently written by an American personality I'd never heard of, and I'd move on fairly quickly to the next chapter. Roll on the British version, I say, to iron out some of these differences!
At the end of the day, this is one of those books that basically does what it says on the tin. It is an amble through a year of reading, with detours into Nelson's life as it relates to the books she is reading. Why does she choose one book over another when she is fighting with her husband? Why does this particular title make her feel a certain way, and how does her mood and her circumstances affect what she chooses to read - or to put down - in any given week? These are questions we all ask ourselves every time we stop to consider why we choose the books we do, and why we react to books in such different ways, and Nelson reflects them back at us with a tongue-in-cheek nod to our shared bookish whims and peculiarities. One to dip into, to savour - and be sure to read it with a pen and paper standing by to note down all the books you fancy reading for yourself!
"My books are my secret lovers, the friends I run to to get away from the daily drudgeries of life, to try out something new, and yes, to get away, for a few hours, from (husband Leo). He doesn't need to know that my books are the affairs I do not have." - Sara Nelson in SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME
Sara Nelson, at the time a book reviewer for Glamour magazine, vowed to read a book a week during 2002. In SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME, she tells us, her fellow bibliophiles, how she fared, as well as her past and present experiences with the great passion of her life - reading.
Upon completion of this engaging volume, I was tempted to award 3 or 4 stars, chiefly because her literary interests are so different from mine and I couldn't relate to most of the particular titles that she mentions. (I've heard of perhaps only a third of them, and have myself read only a couple. Indeed, she reads only the rare historical novel, and, almost incomprehensibly and reprehensibly, non-fiction works of history not at all.) But, this would have been supreme self-centeredness on my part. Sara does with excellence what she intended to do, i.e. describe what are for her and for the rest of us compulsive book lovers the varied facets of the reading experience, many of which we hardly ever give a thought. Several times I found myself nodding in affirmation of her written words and thinking, "Yup, you hit that right on."
SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME is divided into thirty-five chapters, plus Prologue and Epilogue. Each chapter is headed by a date and title, the former, in the aggregate, sequentially and more or less evenly spaced out over 2002. Each chapter, with reference to specific book titles, deals with an aspect of book consumption. As examples:
"February 1, Double-Booked" about the practice of having one book for home and one for away. In Nelson's case, as in mine, the former is usually hardcover and the latter a more portable softcover.
"February 27, The Clean Plate Book Club" concerning the obsession to finish a book once begun, and the maturation process that eventually allows one to permanently toss one that's not working. For me at 59, this still goes against the grain, but I've learned. Thankfully, I find myself in the predicament only rarely.
"March 22, Sharing Books Gives Me Heartburn" about the painful practice of lending books out and perhaps not getting them back. I never lend books, but freely give them away when I'm through with them.
"June 1, Summer Reading" concerning the overly optimistic notion that one will have the time to read on those summer weekends away at the beach resort, or wherever. Verily, vacations with my wife are death marches; who has time to read?
"July 20, Reading Confidential", or how to fall in and out of love with a particular author.
"September 18, Kid Stuff", about the impact the books of childhood may have on our lives. I'll never forget the Young Trailer series by Joseph Altsheler featuring the Kentucky frontiersmen Henry Ware, Paul Cotter, Shif'less Sol Hyde, Long Jim Hart, and Silent Tom Ross.
"September 25, Sex and the City", concerning the prurient pay-off a best-selling erotic novel may or may not provide the reader. Well, I recall becoming feverish as a young adolescent upon reading my secret copy of FANNIE HILL.
"November 15, Oeuvre and Oeuvre Again", regarding the branding of writers by the publishers, and the prudent disinclination to read too many books by the same author back to back. This is a policy I've followed religiously, except after I discovered Gerald Seymour.
"November 25, Openings", or the ability of a book's opening lines to grab and not let go (for better or worse).
"December 10, Friends and Family", about the pressure of being asked by a writer, sometimes a friend or family member, to read a work and give an honest opinion. Writers occasionally ask me to read and review their stuff; I've made several friends and, I suspect, a few enemies. One of the former actually created a fictional character bearing my name in one of his action thrillers (COLD KILL by Stephen Leather); my double-take would've been fodder for the old TV show "Candid Camera".
Only once did I become irritated with the author, and this over a small point of geography. As a resident of New York City, I doubt Sara would seriously claim that Philadelphia is near Richmond, VA. Yet, when referring to the WWII American internment camp for Japanese-American citizens at Manzanar in the Owens Valley near present day Independence, CA, she states it being "near Santa Ana, California" though the two places are separated by roughly 260 miles, about the same distance separating Philly and Richmond. Perhaps Nelson should add a large-scale Rand McNally U.S. road atlas to her "must read" stack.
Despite my single twinge of irritation and my general inability to relate to the author's choice of reading materials, I'm awarding five stars because, in the end, Sara shares the view:
"I've lived the past year exactly how I wanted to - between the covers of books and in the places in my head that those books have taken me. I've been agitated, excited, enthralled, annoyed, frustrated, and sometimes a little bored. But I've never been lonely."
Indeed, because of books, this statement applies to my entire life. Thank you, Sara, for reminding me of this truth.
on 30 January 2009
Sara Nelson has been a book reviewer for various magazines for years in America (you can get this book on Amazon but not in the book shops here, you can also get it on ReadItSwapIt) and she one day decided to log all the books that she read in a year, the original idea was one a week and she had a list of books that she wanted to read. Within a week the list had been rearranged and completely veered off. That was what I loved about this book; it was an honest account of books read in one year. She wasn't preaching either, which was refreshing, and for someone who reviews books in some very well established magazines, you never felt she was trying too be too clever like some reviewers can.
I loved how you could relate to her tales, like when someone recommends her a book, she doesn't like it and it slightly changes the way she thinks about her friend. The reverse is true when she loves a book raves about it and people are seriously unsure, have they changed their opinion of her? Has she changed her opinion of them? I could relate to these quandaries, there is also a very funny bit about partners who don't read, again I totally empathise. She also discusses how you chose a book or a book chooses you, she doesn't like baseball but when her son is really getting into it she finds a book that has it as a theme and so reads on, is the book any good, read Sara's to find out.
Sometimes what I didn't love so much was the books that she was reading but then we seemed to have quite different taste and this alienated me a little, but maybe this blog will do that to people in cyber space? I really love it when a book either makes you want to buy ever single thing the author has done, and with a book about books you would expect to walk away with a list for Amazon as long as your arm. I had heard of a few of them but not all of them, then when I looked at one of the Appendix where she stated all the books she had read and not included I felt a tiny bit cheated as some of them I would love to have read about her reading about... confused yet? It has a human feel although I didn't need to know so much about her and her husband's rows, I thought that was slightly strange.
This is a definite for serious book lovers/geeks like myself, you will be sat there chortling and saying `I so do that'. Sadly for someone who says a books cover can really put you off, I was confused with the cover they have given the book. That's a small complaint though, I'm being picky.