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how i do my part to keep IKEA in business

The fact of the matter is, I don’t normally have a big capacity to read. I love books–I love talking about them, thinking about them, imagining writing my own. I love the smell of them, the feel of them. I love buying them. I love paperbacks and hardbacks. And I also love kindle and nook. I just like having books. I don’t care what form they are in. But when it comes to the actual act of reading I’m a little less enthusiastic. I used to love to read–would do it for hours–but as I get older, my attention span seems to diminish for some reason. So for the past few years, it’s been really hard for me to just sit down with a good back. I mean, sure, I find a real gem every so often, but it definitely takes a lot more to really captivate me. In some ways, I’m sad about that–I miss being so easily enraptured by a good book; but in other ways, I guess I’m okay with it. I’m more discriminating now, and I hope that means the things I do read, I enjoy a lot more.

When I was getting ready to move back to California, I was determined to cut back on “stuff” and be a more moveable person, and so I went through all my books and got rid of half of them. I kept the ones I love and the ones I will read again and the ones I marked up in graduate school. But anything I wasn’t particularly invested in, went. It was great. Liberating. Interesting (to see what I kept and didn’t). I sold my full-length bookcase on craigslist, and when I got to California I bought one of those narrow IKEA billy bookcases. And I fit all my books on it. Perfectly.

And then the past week, for some weird reason, I found myself back in the book business. Not only book-buying–that business started up again with a fury when Penguin released their awesome clothbound classics–but actually reading. I find myself at present engaged in reading no less than three books (which is monumental for me these days), and intent on starting two more immediately (four of these five are books I bought in the past week). I like the idea of finishing one book before I start another, and usually I’m quick enough of a reader that that’s no problem, but this week I just don’t want to wait to start the others. Weird, right?

my five latest purchases (the one on top is a new set of journals)

I’ve been wanting to read Godel, Escher, Bach for years. It seems like all the smart kids have read it, and every time I start to talk about self-reflective stuff, people always throw it out there. So I know I’m like 30 years late, but I got myself started on this one. So far, so good. And by that I mean, I’m way in over my head. This is definitely one of the hardest books I’ve tackled. Apparently there are some great lectures on YouTube that go with the book, so I’ll be checking those out, too.

I’ve told you about reading Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, so I won’t belabor that point. Suffice it to say, the more I read of this book, the higher my recommendation goes.

I’m also reading Arthur Phillips’s The Tragedy of Arthur, which is pretty good–but a little too chatty for my attention span to be really invested. I like the idea of this book a LOT though, so I stick with it. But it is a bit hard for me to really get into. I don’t want to make this into a book review or book synopsis sort of post, but here’s the link to the New York Times article about the book. This review is what inspired me to buy and read this book in the first place. I don’t advise it for readers with short attention spans, but I do want to say that every small bit I manage to read is pretty amazing. The author is incredibly gifted, and the structure and plot are brilliant. Maybe on a day when my brain is a little slower, and I don’t mind chatty narrative, I can make it all the way through it…

There is also Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, which I just bought today, because it caught my eye. It’s about early America and it seems to be a masterpiece. Not that I would know, because I haven’t started it yet :) It’s one of the two books that I WANT to start. It’s fiction, and stars a character loosely based on Alec de Tocqueville. It’s supposed to be (and I quote the certainly-unbiased quote on the front cover): “As big and bold as America itself…Carey at his finest…He is a sheer magician with language.” It also won the Booker Prize, which might be a little more reliable as a character witness…

All of this is well and good, and I’m thrilled with these books–but let’s not forget my capstone purchase. The book I not only judged by, but also bought because of, its cover. No, really. I have no idea what this book is about, and to be quite frank, I don’t even care. The cover is sheer brilliance, the author is H.G. Wells, and that is enough for me. Behold:

That’s right. The cover is a folded sheet of newsprint. The book’s title is the “article” title of the newspaper, and the contents of said “article” are that which is normally found on the cover’s flaps. I am in love. I hope this book doesn’t turn out to be indecent, because I do NOT want to return it. I’m hoping H.G. Wells will be as safe as usual.

Furthermore, this book has inspired me to make a series of my own book covers. I’m thinking I could get a bunch of blank newsprint, design covers similar to this one, and make covers for my own books. But that’s anotherproject and anotherpost.

For now, I need to read. And plan another trip to IKEA.


  1. Julie

    You’ve got me interested in “How to write a sentence”. I could use the help. As you can tell from my choppy posts! To go along with “How to write a sentence” there is actually a book called “How to read a book”. The author’s first name is Mortimer but I forgot the last name. It will come to me later…
    I hope you get through the pile of books that you have determined to read. This summer find me doing cross word puzzles….I too am having a hard time getting started or finishing a book.


    • Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book. It is one of my favorite books. I really enjoyed reading it, and it did improve my reading…especially reading I do to learn things. I am trying to get into a new book. I have been experimenting with my kindle and getting samples. I haven’t liked one enough yet to purchase it…there is something much less satisfying about an electronic copy…I may just have to head to a public library…or yours, Nicole!


  2. r.

    I love that you wrote about this, since I never knew this about you! And I think that you probably discredit yourself too much, because I know that you’ve read a lot. Maybe, as you say, you’re simply becoming a more discerning reader. I, sadly, am probably not. I find myself frequently heading over to the YA fantasy/scifi fiction section to escape. I don’t usually buy, so I have a lot of half-read stupid books in my head! :)
    But I love your list of books that you’re currently reading. Oscar & Lucinda is one of Peter Carey’s books that I bought and thought I’d love and couldn’t get through. But Parrot & Olivier just looks wonderful. (Don’t you love the name Olivier?) Also, you’ve made me really want to read Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, too!
    love the writing about reading and writing:)


  3. Grace

    Me too!!! Something happened and I don’t have the attention spam to escape into books anymore. Last year I had a fit of reading when Isaac was sick and I read every book I could find from my childhood for about a month. I emerged from my 2-a-day haze and haven’t read anything completely through since. I can’t tell if it’s a shift to non-fiction but anyway I feel like my love of reading has been rather dampened over the past 5 yrs or so. Miss you.


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