At the start of 2012, I made a pledge to read 50 books during the year. It seemed like a reasonable goal. So much so, that I became a bit cocksure and increased my pledge to 75 books. Through March, I stayed within 2 books, (plus or minus) of my goal. Then came spring and I fell behind because a writing course a summer garden, painting the house, and a hectic work schedule.
Now, it is October 7 and I need to read 45 books before December 31. I could cheat and revert back to my original 50. I would still be behind. There is no prize if I accomplish my goal or if I do not, so I plan to rise to the challenge.
It is not that I lack the books for my challenge. I am an omnivorous bibliophile. I have over 3248 catalogued books. My sources for finding them are varied. I love the recommendations from Amazon.com and, lately, the recommendations and advertisements from Goodreads.com. I was intrigued by the reviews of my latest read, Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club, and grabbed it off the shelf at Elliott’s. I greedily peruse the New York Review of Books advertisements, especially the university and independent book advertisements for interesting reads (Alan Hutchinson’s legal tome Is Eating People Wrong? is a great example.) Then there are the recommendations from family, friends, book fairs and NPR (Daniel Drenzer’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies as well as Stephen Greenblatt’s Pulitzer winner The Swerve).
By and large, my favorite thing is going to the physical bookstore. Unfortunately, Gig Harbor lacks a significant bookstore. I usually travel to Barnes and Noble in Silverdale (Lakewood is closer but I am too cheap to pay the bridge toll). As a special treat, I journey to Seattle to Elliott Bay Book Company. I prefer the independent booksellers such as Elliott’s as well as Powell’s in Portland, Oregon to the national chains because of the more varied selection. I am depressed at the demise of the independent bookseller and the subsequent homeogenation of bookstores. I remember fondly Scribner’s books in Sacramento—the unique selection and the care of the entire book sale process–the way the clerk would place a special sticker at the back of the book and wrap the book in brown paper. To me, a book is a visceral entity. Perhaps that is why I do not enjoy the eBook as much as the physical book.
How do I case a bookstore and find my books? No matter which bookstore, I am pretty systematic in my approach. I visit the new nonfiction (both hardcover as well as paperback), then toddle to the nature and nature writing shelves. Probably the bulk of my private collection includes ornithology and nature writing as well as evolutionary biology. I then review the medical and history sections looking for new medical history books such as Bill Wasik’s Rabid.
Obviously, purchasing a book and reading it are different animals. I usually read books which seem to have an underlying theme. The last five books (The End of Your Life Book Club, Rabid, Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, as well as Siddhartha Mukhurjee’s wonderful Emperor of All Maladies) deal with cancer and serious illness. Both Mukherjee and Wasik quote Sontag. I am a sucker for a feel-good book and I think I read Gwen Cooper’s Homer’s Odyssey as a release from the previous subjects.
And now to tackle the 45 remaining books ….