L is for libraries. and the Lolympics. and L..books. (this isn’t working, is it?)
Last week, my friend Kayla left me a comment asking this:
I want to know how you pick your books. Do you see them in a store with a fancy cover? Do you read of them in magazines or other blogs? Or are you following some sort of list?
Oooh, I do love questions.
[Reading note: tangent approaching. Buckle in.]
Why? I think (besides the obvious assumption that perhaps I can be self-involved at times — who isn’t?) it’s that questions do several things for us. For one, they show curiosity and interest in the questioner, which is a delightful trait in other people. After high school I took essentially a “gap” year where I went to a program that espouses to build service, leadership and spiritual development. Although I don’t think it really taught me what it intended, I got way more out of it than even I expected, mostly in the form of some of my favorite people EVER with whom I am still friends. One of those friends is Kristin. Someone asked me once what made her one of my favorite people ever, and I remember telling them this:
She’s the type of person who makes you feel as if you are the most interesting person in the room when she’s talking to you.
I think that comes from a place of genuine curiosity, as Kristin is obsessed with so many things in the most delightful way possible. Part of how she makes others feel so interesting? She asks them questions, genuinely (or at least faking it really well) interested in what they have to say.
The other reasons I think we like questions about ourselves are related: they cause us to reflect and they allow us to be an expert for once.
I am not an expert, by any means. When I was a kid — and, who am I kidding, still now as an adult — I was obsessed with the Olympics. I mean, OBSESSED. I would take out the TV Guide that I got out of the newspaper, since I felt bad about stealing the actual TV Guide magazine that my friend’s mom got each week, and pore over it to map out my Olympic-watching schedule. I performed my interpretation of ice-skating routines in my socks behind the large, olive-colored recliner my dad sat in. I practiced my flip-turns (while holding my nose, of course) at the pool. I accompanied my stuffed animals on the Olympic podium in my room, awarding medals and waving to the crowd.
You would think that this obsession would mean that I was an athlete.
I was and am not.
What I really was enamored with, beyond the beauty and athleticism of olympic sports, was that these people were experts. They were focused and dedicated enough to be the very best at something.
I never had that kind of dedication or focus to a singular thing. I often longed for that particular sequence of DNA to show up magically in my blueprints. At other times in my life, I even hated myself for liking too many things, as if that was a sign of weakness and unreliability.
I’ve grown up a little since then. What was once a perceived weakness is now an asset to what I do.
But from this experience, I grew to love being asked questions about myself, because — for once — it was a subject I could speak about as an honest-to-god expert. I am an expert on me, so ask away. Pretty, pretty please. I (luckily) learned how to temper that (most of the time) by developing a genuine curiosity about other people, too, which saved me from becoming a pompous jerk at all times to everyone around me. Thank God.
However, some things never change, because when my friend Kayla asked me her question recently in my comments, I immediately got real excited (comment + question = awesome). The way to my heart is paved with a question mark, people.
[Reading note: Here’s where we finally get back on track. Geez…]
So, here is my answer:
Good question! I find books a bunch of different ways. Once I discovered that I could pay library fines online, I returned to the library after a long, shameful absence that came from my wanting to avoid the steely admonishment by the desk clerk when I paid my fines in person. (I will probably always have library book fines. And crumbs in my purse.) This return to the library helped open up more books to me, because I wasn’t worried if I’d regret buying them. Here’s how I’ve found the most recent books I’ve read this year:
1. The Internet Machine.
I follow a few different bloggers/tumblrs, some of whom are avid readers and talk about the books they’re reading. I also check out the New York Times Bestseller list for some of the big titles right now. Around this time of year, I’ll check out the end-of-year lists that are published to see a compendium of books I should possibly check out this year. I’ll even do a google search like this to find lists, although I find this is the best way of finding a list of classics that might interest me. [Jay-Z’s Decoded and the Steve Jobs biography I started/finished last week came from a blogger and the NYTimes, respectively).
But, you often find books mentioned in an article not about books. On my list right now is Born to Run, which I had seen on my friends Garrett & Courtney’s bookshelf, but became interested after I read this article in the NY Times.
I read several different magainzes — right now, Vanity Fair and Wired are at the top of the list — and V.F. has a section called “Hot Type” that previews a bunch of different authors and books. Sometimes one of them piques my interest, so I’ll check it out.
3. The Bookstore.
Good design often gets me into a book. When I wander around the bookstores, a good cover will pull me in, and good jacket writing can seal the deal. I was sold on a book I read last month, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, for it’s cover design — although, I had heard about this book mentioned casually on a blog I follow a few months earlier.
4. My Online Book Club
A few friends and I have a very, very loose book club online at Goodreads (we’re all in different parts of the country) where we suggest a book for the month, read it, and then post what we thought. I LONG for a real-life book club with cocktails and food and more talk about the book and life in general, but I do not have similar taste in books as any of my friends, it seems, and nobody is all that interested. One day, one day. This is the closest we come, and I end up reading books that I wouldn’t have chosen but are glad I read (see: Emma Donahue’s Room, which was a book club selection).
5. My bookshelf.
Seriously, I own more books than I’ve read, which is ridiculous. So, I either need to get rid of books (I do) or I need to start reading them (I do). Or, more honestly, I need to finish books that I’ve started and then abandoned. I have that nasty habit sometimes. Some of my favorite authors live on my bookshelf, though, so I often will check to see if they have a new book coming out. Chuck Klosterman’s book The Visible Man came about that way, and so did Dave Eggers’ book Zeitoun (which I finally read this year and was amazing) came from seeing other books they wrote on my shelf and then checking out books of theirs that I haven’t read.
So, there’s where I find books to read. I like good books, but that means that I like a lot of different kinds of books. I mix it up a lot. In order to keep the pipeline filled, though, I found that I needed to log them somewhere that I can remember them when I’m ready to read something. If you can find a way to record what you read in the same place, that works great. This online idea is kind of cool. If you are into the journal thing, they have several book journals that are lovely for this sort of thing. This is one I kind of like:
My sorry excuse for a system is a combination of putting newer books on hold and getting on the waiting list, sticky notes on my mac, and writing them in my spybook.
Also, forgetting wholeheartedly about it and then picking it up years later when you remember you had wanted to read it? Works great too.
I also love to lend books, so if you’re local (or don’t mind shipping it back to me when you’re done if you aren’t), I’ll send them your way, because I’m all old-fashioned, and don’t read books on computers. Everything else, sure. But not books.
Happy reading…and if you want any suggestions or to ask me any other questions about the subjects on which I am an expert (read: me), ask away.
[Reading note: you made it. Drinks for everyone.]
Update: I’m considering reading Moby-Dick next after reading an article about a book that someone wrote about it. Anyone want to weigh in? Epic idea, or just epically bad? Especially my English-y friends, I’m looking right at you.