03 December 2018

Time to Read

Old books on a shelf

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
-- Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Of late I've fallen in love with books again. This happens to me regularly though infrequently. This may sound odd as I am an avid reader and a librarian to boot. But there is the casual reading one engages in day to day, and then there is a kind of deep reading and adoration of all things book. 

My first experience of it was at age four. The Milwaukee Public Library bookmobile neighborhood stop just happened to be directly in front of our house.

Girls in a bookmobile, St. Paul, MN, ca. 1959.
 Girls in a bookmobile, St. Paul, MN, ca. 1959.
Charlie and Golden Ticket from original Willie Wonka movie
Charlie from Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory
I tagged along with older brothers and sisters who would allow me to have a book or two in their name. I asked the librarian why I couldn't have my own card. Thinking to deter me, she said I could have one if I could sign my own name. Immediately I ran back into our house and told my Dad what she said. And just as immediately, he sat me down and taught me how to sign (not print) my name. It took him about 20 minutes. And a few minutes after that, I had my very own Golden Ticket!

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and
slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.
― William Styron, Conversations with William Styron

Too Like the Lightning cover
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Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer is the first of Palmer's Terra Ignota series. It is not a book for the faint of heart: dense prose, very involved storytelling, and massively detailed and rich world building. It took me three tries to get into the swing of reading it. And I must confess that I struggled the whole way. While this book and this series is something rather astounding, I realized that now is not the time for me to read it. My brother, Architect, has read the first 3 books and found them most intriguing . . . so it really is a matter of the right book at the right time. I've gone ahead and bought Books 2 & 3 and will be buying Book 4 when it comes out. At some point, I will return to them.

Book of Dust UK & US editions covers
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Another book I am setting aside is Phillip Pullman's The Book of Dust. Only this book I don't plan to return to. I was seriously conflicted by his His Dark Materials trilogy (though found the sidebar book, Once Upon a Time in the North really quite fun and well conceived). But for all the gorgeous imaginings, the underlying anti-religion theme just annoyed me. I am not religious--I am a skeptic in fact--but I deplore proselytization on any side of any fence. My annoyance with The Book of Dust reminded me of my annoyance with much of Sheri S. Tepper's later eco-feminist works. Both Pullman and Tepper are powerful storytellers--I am just not keen on their message-makings.

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Not all of my reading of late is fiction, however. I recently returned to a book I'd worked at reading back in the 1990s when I was working on what I thought was my dissertation topic on 9th century European manuscripts. The book was the then newly published The Book of Memory by Mary Carruthers. It was (and still is) and astounding work of scholarship and deep, reflective, intellectual work. 

I say I worked at reading it because Carruthers' writing demanded more historical understanding than I had mastered at that point. Reading it again this past weekend was no easier, but because I was reading it for a different purpose,* I was able to let the power of her mind simply be rather than be intimidating. 

Review paragraph of Carruthers The Book of Memory
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* The reason I picked up Carruthers again is that I am working at writing a book myself: a science fiction novel. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Middle Ages or medieval manuscripts. What I needed was a new way of understanding how the mind works when memorizing massive amounts of information. The Book of Memory is one of a handful of serious scholarly books I hung on to. I knew I'd need her again some day . . . though I didn't think it would be in the context of science fiction!


I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves.
I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.

― George R.R. Martin 

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