Monday, February 19, 2018

Spoiled for Choice, An Embarrassment of Riches, Too Many Books? -- Never!

First of all, let me say what a difference my membership at the Vancouver Public Library has made to my reading patterns this past year. The ability to download e-books, even from different countries while travelling, and to read them through an app on my iPad Mini is such a boon. I've also been taking advantage of the For Later virtual shelf the VPL website offers online, in my account -- When I hear of a book that sounds worth tracking down, my first step these days is generally to go to the library catalogue, and if they have a copy of the title, I pop it on my For Later shelf so that I don't forget about it. As well, if I'm really keen on the book, I'll generally place a Hold Request on it, especially if there's already a queue forming.

Currently, I have nine books on hold, which might sound like too many except that for some of the more popular titles I'm 55th in line -- even 98th, albeit that's on 20 copies.  Still, there is a danger that too many will come available at once or that the book might become available just as I suddenly find myself too busy to read (you're right; that almost never happens -- not that I'm never too busy, just never too busy for reading, which is virtually indispensable to my well-being).  And for precisely that reason, the VPL's software has a nifty little feature that allows the borrower to Pause a Hold request, so that you maintain priority in line, but allow others to go ahead until you're ready to take advantage.

However, if you've got a few too many books on Hold, and you get a bit too distracted with travel and broken teeth and other sundries, well. . . .

Let's just say that at the moment I have two e-books downloaded, their 21-day expiry period shrinking as I type, I'm currently racing my way through a paperback that holds four novels in one book, and the library emailed that a print copy of a mystery novel recommended by my sister is waiting for me now, and just as I was groaning over that, I checked my account and saw that the latest Val McDermid mystery has just been added to the Holds shelf, in my name.

Embarrassment of riches, definitely.

So at the moment, I'm a reading fool, and I'm really not complaining as the weather is chilly enough to make curling up with a book very pleasant. . .

But the reading doesn't leave much time for writing about reading, I must say. Still, I'll try to catch you up quickly.

When it seemed everyone and her dog had a copy of Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins tucked in her beach bag a few summers ago,  I held the book's popularity against it. Silly snob, right? With a few flights scheduled recently, though, I clicked Hold when it was featured again on the library website, and the e-copy was ready for me to download in time for the flight to Palm Springs.

Enough has already been written about this novel to convince you to read it now if, like me, you foolishly held yourself above the crowd first time 'round (please take my self-scourging with a big grain of salt -- you'll see from my past reading lists that I am happy to be quite promiscuous in my reading patterns and that I am regularly content to lose myself in popular fiction, as long as it's well-written). This NY Times review by Helen Schulman, for example, lauds Walter's engaging storytelling but also his clever skewering of Hollywood, the way he can move us and amuse us both.

But I do want to show you the passage that moved me most. It takes place in the one chapter an American veteran of WWII manages to write in the book he claims to be writing for years and years of post-war disillusion and dissolution. In the book, a character like himself recounts an incident in which, near the end of the war, walking in ragged, stretched-out formation with fellow soldiers, he sees a beautiful young Italian woman, is smitten, and insists on walking her home to her village. She turns out to speak English very well, having learned it at school and obviously having a facility for language.

They're speaking, as they walk, of where the soldier/writer/protagonist is from, and he's impressed by how much she knows of the state. It's a beautiful and devastating tale told in two deft pages. Read it, and see what I mean? Although I warn you, it's difficult, and even more pertinent these #MeToo days, perhaps, than when it was written a few years ago.

Have you read this book already? Did you enjoy it? Do you ever hesitate to read a book because you're suspicious of the buzz surrounding it?

Next up: I'll tell you which two fat new hardcovers I found in the Fast Reads section of the library, just before our long weekend in Palm Springs. The latest mysteries in two separate detective series I'm always keen to keep up with, but whoa! Each one weighed in at over 400 pages. . . Perfect for poolside but good thing no one weighed my carry-on! 


Anonymous said...

I didn't read the book,it sounds excellent.
The e-book library seems like a dream to me,although it might cause the similar situation as yours-the overflow of books I want to read
Even now,a plethora of books waiting to be chosen,read,borrowed...
As I'm greedy,it may happen that I completelly forget about one or two (or ten) books I wanted to read,sailing forward,following other pursuit.......
If everyone is reading (or merely talking about it),I might be suspicious,but I want to know why is that (curiosity killed the cat....)

Coastal Ripples said...

I’m nodding in agreement as I read this post. Another retiree here in exactly the same position. An embarrassment of riches too. Will have to add another title now too. Just finishing 'Still Life' by Louise Penny, the first of her detective novels. Strangely I may be enjoying this more because I know several of the future novels. Usually very pedantic about getting novels in order but this one seems to work out of order. B x

materfamilias said...

I'm greedy too, when it comes to books. In fact, I've a stack I "greedily" bought when we were at Powell's Books in Portland last fall (Google that bookstore -- it's amazing!) and five of them are still unread, months later. . . . I'm going to get to them, but keep ordering others from the library!

materfamilias said...

I'm the same way with Donna Leon, needing to read hers in order, but with some series it doesn't seem to matter quite as much. You'll have turned the last page on that one by the time you read this, I'm sure, and well launched into your next choice. Enjoy

Anonymous said...

A big chuckle from me reading this post as I used to be a huge "literary snob." In fact, when I first began reading mystery novels I actually used to wait until nobody was around the stacks, dash into the mystery aisle to pick up a Colin Dexter or Ruth Rendell, then put them underneath the Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro! How silly was that? Now of course, mystery writers are among my favourites and like you, my only criteria is that the book be well written. I've been devouring Donna Leon recently and just this week discovered a new (to me) series by a Japanese writer, Keigo Higashino. An embarrassment of riches indeed!
Frances in Sidney

materfamilias said...

Yep, those days are long behind me now -- but I'll admit that it was a big relief to discover fellow mystery-readers among my fellow students doing graduate work in literature.
Now, I must check the VPL and see if I can put Keigo Higashino's books on my For Later shelf. Thank you for keeping me behind in my reading ;-)

Mardel said...

Oh, I have holds, and a list and the library, and a list at home, and I still buy far too many books as well. There are books from years ago I never got to, and at times I am overwhelmed by too many books that arrive all at once. It is such a joy, I hope it never changes.

I did read that book a couple of years ago. The passage you shared above was one I marked at the time and I note that I enjoyed the book and likened it to a jigsaw puzzle in that the scattered vignettes at time frustrated this reader, only to come together in the end in a rewarding fashion.

materfamilias said...

Yes, I have a small stack, most still unread, from our last visit to Portland where I spent a happy few hours in Powell's Books. And as you say, overwhelmed as I may be by the unread stacks, it's a joy I hope never changes.