Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Pursuit of Reading

How do you decide what book to read next? How often do you refer to Amazon's best seller list to make your decision? Do you pick the book that everyone else is reading, or do you choose instead a book that satisfies your own intellectual need?

These are the questions that should be addressed after reading New York Times article titled "The Book Club With Just One Member". In the article, author Motoko Rich pointed out that, in the era of Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari or book clubs, people's attitudes toward reading have changed drastically. Long ago, Virginia Woolf once said, "The pursuit of reading is carried on by private people." Nowadays, however, there is no longer any privacy left in reading. The act of reading has turned into a "relentless social pursuit". When people read a good book, their natural and immediate instinct is to share it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs (guilty as charged myself) or whatnot.

Long before the age of internet, the relationship between books and readers are much more intimate. Books were private possessions. The bookshelf reflected the reader's taste, intellectual altitude and even personality. Back then people decided on what books to read without much social noise. They spent more time indulging in books that piqued their interest and quietly savored the great moments in reading.

The act of private reading can be soul-enriching albeit a bit lonely. In our fast-paced society, loneliness is something we frown upon. Loneliness is not tolerated. But, think about all these book clubs where people get together once every two weeks to sip champagne and discuss the latest Oprah selection. How many people do you think are really there for a heated discussion on how well crafted chapter 15 is? How many people are there because they are hoping to reach out to someone else who could share their thoughts? Better yet, how many people do you think are reading a book that they don't care at all just so that they can use it as an ice-breaker at a social setting in order to meet people? Maybe we are all lonelier (and shallower) than we'd like to admit. Nonetheless, it is a fact that book reading has become a great tool of communication and connection among people (and the lonely souls). As much as it is digressing from what reading is really about, it is benefiting the society a great deal.

What I like to see is that each one of us indulges in a bit of private reading. Forget about the best sellers. Forget about Oprah. Forget about what you are told to read. Go to the bookstore and pick a book that is entirely "you". Get absorbed into the book! Soak up all of its wonder and glory. Preserve the experience for reflection. Put the book at the end of your bookshelf, and never utter a word to a soul. And that is the book that you will not forget for a long time. Mark my word.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Fail

I stumbled upon this website called Awful Library Books. It's run by two librarians Mary and Holly. The site contains an amusing collection of public library holdings that are too ancient to be useful for modern readers. The concept is to showcase (and poke fun at) how irrelevant some of the library collections have become and how these books are in a dire need to be "weeded".

Some of the titles are awfully funny. On the first page, you can see scanned book covers that are titled "Talking to Children about Nuclear Wars", "Goat Husbandry", "Cyborg: Evelution of Superman", "How to Make Beautiful Food in Mold" and etc. I couldn't help bursting out laughing while checking out some of these titles.

It's definitely a great website that's worth stopping by to have a few chuckles. Sort of like a Fail blog for books.

Click here to check it out!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness - Richard Yates

More about Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

Title: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness
Author: Richard Yates
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories
Publisher: Vintage 2008
Length: 221 pages

Short Stories Included:
Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern
The Best of Everything

Jody Rolled the Bones

No Pain Whatsoever

A Glutton for Punishment

A Wrestler with Sharks

Fun with a Stranger

The B.A.R. Man

A Really Good Jazz Piano

Out with the Old


If you are not familiar with the name Richard Yates, I am sure you know of his first novel Revolutionary Road which was adapted into a popular movie in 2008. The movie was nominated for 3 Oscar awards.

This book contains 11 short stories in which Richard Yates explored various forms of "loneliness" that can be found in marriage, friendship or workplace. I have to say that Yates has an ingenious crafting skill. His stories are extremely well-written and leave no room for even the tiny bit of disappointment.

More often than not, the success of a story is not dependent on the story itself but rather on the characters in the story. Characters are hard to develop, and sometimes they take pages and pages of building before the readers fall in love with them. To a short story writer, this task is even more challenging. How do you make your readers like your characters in just a few pages? I am not exaggerating when I say Yates is the master of short stories because, to my surprise, he wasted no words at defining and building his characters who, in most cases, are outcasts, loners or people who are simply unable to connect with another person. With precise and powerful depiction, Yates skillfully showcased their innermost raw emotions which readers can easily relate to, thus making these characters less pathetic but more lovable.

Yates reminds me a lot of Fitzgerald in the way where Yates' stories are also quite grim and often filled with a sense of lost identity and an inner-struggle to connect with the outside world. However, Yates' writing is much more emotional and sarcastic, which adds a bit of an edge to his style.

I always feel that short stories is where writers reveal the most about themselves. After 11 stories, it is not hard to see that Yates is not a believer in marriage. He is rather a pessimist when it comes to love, frequently alluding to the fact that marriage is what kills passion. He even wrote a rather melancholy story about love starting to change in the most subtle ways just two days before a young couple's wedding day. It is not a surprise when I flipped to the first page and read in his biography that he was divorced twice in his lifetime.

My personal favorite is the 4th story No Pain Whatsoever, in which Yates described a young woman riding a friend's car to visit her husband who was checked into the TB ward of a hospital. The story was quite flat and uneventful until we almost approached the end when the woman finished yet another dull visit where she barely conversed with her sick husband. She came out and stood in front of the hospital, in the freezing cold weather of Christmastime, and cried quietly. Yates never mentioned what she was crying for, but it was exactly this kind of crafting that subtly touched the hearts of many.

I am definitely putting Revolutionary Road back on the reading list, and I'm definitely a fan of Richard Yates now.

Have you read any short story collection lately? What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 22, 2010

国境之南 太阳之西