The Reading Life

I was curious to know how other authors wrote about their reading lives. I figured it was valuable research as I plan to do the same in Categorically Well Read. I didn't find many titles. But the sheer quantity of books these authors claim to have read seriously intimidates me. I also wanted to find book suggestions that were more than just moldy old lists of should be read "classics". I have issues with the value of using my valuable reading time reading a book just because it is a classic--it also has to be a good read. Such as Middlemarch by George Eliot, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. 

Some of these authors wrote a lot about books that influenced their reading lives as they were growing up, which encouraged me to examine mine. I am acquiring my titles for a future reading list. 

Some books about the reading life.


  The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading by Phyllis Rose

I was a little afraid to read this book as I was sure I would feel compelled to either read "her shelf" or pick a "shelf of my own" but in the end I felt neither urge. I will admit it is an intriguing idea--although if I do succumb it will consist of me reading through one of my "home composed shelves of unread books"--that idea might be worth pursuing! My "Umberto Ecco Anti-Library" currently consists of at least five such shelves. (Thanks Mr. Taleb for making me proud of this fact.) The shelf Ms. Rose read was very unappealing to me and in the end I think mostly to her as well. This book has a lot of filler--interesting filler but filler none the less and her writing about these books/filler was way more interesting than the books.

Her idea was to pick a somewhat random shelf in a New York City library (she set some ground rules for shelf selection) and read her way through. She became a little obsessed about one--a Russian "classic" that she read over and over until she could convince her mind that it was a classic. I didn't get it. There is a whole class of authors who books (like this one) have been deemed classics that glorify the macho male and their mistreatment of women or who blatantly indulge the author's "fictionalized fantasies" that usually involved forbidden lusts and/or minors. It makes me wonder living in this #metoo moment that perhaps this "classification" needs to be re-thought. I don't want to be a hypocrite though as I love a good mystery/thriller as much as the next reader, it just has me wondering about the human taste for violence in our choices of entertainment.

Ms. Rose has no problem criticizing authors and books or revealing plots twists, endings, and solutions to crimes. She is a bit harsh at times and claims at one point to not read negative reviews of her own writings. Dishing it out but not taking it. Over all though I liked this book, even though I didn't always agree with the author. In fact, the one book that she decided not to read ended up being the only one that I felt was interesting. A book called Eleanor by Rhoda Lerman--it is about Eleanor Roosevelt and I am so close to having a whole category of Eleanor books.


  Morningstar: Growing Up with Books by Ann Hood

An autobiographical exploration of the books that influenced an Italian girl growing up in Rhode Island in the 60's and 70's. I too am a child of this era, I too was influenced by the author Herman Wouk but I am not sure I ever read Marjorie Morningstar, I know I read War and Remembrance and Winds of War and liked them both. My plan is to rectify this omission, she is going into a category soon. I really enjoyed this book and plan on reading more by this author, hopefully soon.


After reading that book-- my category ran into a little technical difficulty. As I was exploring other "reading and book themed" websites I stumbled across Modern Mrs. Darcy a popular blog created by Anne Bogel. It is very easy to get sucked down a rabbit hole on her site. I noticed she had written a book about her reading life. During a deep dive on her website I found another author, Kathleen Norris with a very intriguing somewhat theme related title and topic. While I was on Amazon buying these two books I found Amazon recommending a third, titled "Book Girl" and I bought it as well.

What I failed to note at first glance was the Christian slant of ALL of these books and websites. While Anne Bogel does a good job keeping her book and her website "secular" rather than overtly "spiritual" -- her book is ranked on Amazon under Christian living and a lot of her followers are definitely living Christians. Nothing wrong with this, to each their own...Anne has a very good eye for very good reading material. In fact I have another category going based on a list of can't put down books I found on her website. And I will be ever grateful for stumbling across Kathleen Norris's book on her site.

I am giving Kathleen Norris a pass on the religious front as the word "monk" is included in the title and particularly because her book gave me the key to unlocking the mysterious malaise I often feel about living life. I have been unable to accurately describe it and now I can. I knew going in that this was a religious book written by a woman with a devout faith, but the demon of which she writes is a universal element in the makeup of human minds. 

I skimmed through the lists in the third title but could not make myself read Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson and I tried. I am a little peeved at both Amazon and the publisher to tell the truth. You read "20+ recommended reading lists, the treasures and transforming power of reading, the joys of being a "book girl" but what you never find out until you start reading is that this book has serious religious tones. This fact was not mentioned in the description or on the back cover. The lists--sorry to say-- are more about what to read if you want to be a good Christian and given that the author is an Oxford divinity scholar completely understandable. This is in retrospect--I wish this slant had been more fully divulged and I could have saved my book fund the expense.

Unfortunately, I found her writing style irritating, too ingratiating and chummy. And I know I just skimmed but I kept getting this sneaking feeling that she hadn't read all the books she put into her lists. For the record, I do have a rather immense "To Be Read" stack of books but I do not recommend them as must reads (if warranted) until after I have read them.

Once again, to each their own, and if these types of religious reading lists are where you choose to spend your precious reading time, it is no business of mine. Just realize that I mostly find my solace and truths elsewhere and read from those lists.


  I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

I liked her book, I liked reading about her life, I like her website and often go there for reading inspiration. While I am amazed at the quantity of books she reads, personally I would never get the same amount of reading satisfaction out of giving a book a "quick" read. I am slow, I savor and ponder, indeed I approach my whole life at the pace of a leisurely stroll. 





 Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

The demon of acedia--also called the noonday demon--is the one that causes the most trouble of all...he strikes during the heat of the day, you are hungry and fatigued, and open to the suggestion that commitment to work, your dream, your passion, your meditation is not worth the effort. Nothing is worth the effort and the demon laughs and mocks you for ever thinking anything ever was. You lay down and struggle to get back up. This demon certainly lives in my head, but I think it is a universal element of the human brain. Kathleen is in the end way too "religious" for me, that she suffers from acedia (and depression) rolls off of every page. I really hopes she finds her peace. 

I consider this book a starting point for a major research project as I need more secular scientific answers and thanks to Ms. Norris I have plenty of places to look. For the record this book is way more about her writing life than it is about her reading life. 







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Hi! I'm Debbie. Here at Categorically Well-Read I give an extra layer to the reading life. Learn more about me, check out my current category of books, submit your own suggestion, or check out my latest post.