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Books on Books

August 30, 2007

Oh, for checking things off to-do lists. :) I’m finally getting around to discussing two books I’ve read recently: A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes and How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen.

The latter is a very short, very light meditation on being a reader. I enjoyed hearing her love of books, but certain things bothered me. First, for only 80 pages, she spends a lot of time whining about literary/books criticism. Secondly, she mentions a couple times that she loves books more than her kids. I find that sentiment slightly repugnant (although, I know I’m not in a position to judge because I don’t have children, my current job is nanny to my niece, so I know how exhausting it is to run after an 18 month old all day), but more importantly, I can’t believe she’d write that in a public forum. What if her kids read that someday?! So, the sweetness of her obvious obsession with reading was, for me, counterbalanced by these quibbles. People who can look over past this will probably enjoy this: it’s like reading a highly polished blog entry, almost.

The former is a tome. Its official page length is 668; however, the actual book ends in the 500s (the rest is notes and an impressive bibliography). Basbanes discusses book collectors (very different from reading lovers), historical in part one, and contemporary (through the 80s) in part two. Each chapter focuses a different book collector, as well as the book collection, however it branches into related topics as well. Some chapters were really, really interesting; others were more skim-worthy. My favourites were his “America, Americans, Americana,” which discussed early-American collectors, “Mirror Images” which discussed collectors with eccentric collections that reflected their personalities, “Instant Ivy,” which is all about UT Austin (go Longhorns!), and “Obsessed Amateurs,” which is self-evident. I loved reading about the children’s books collections. :) The book was an uneven one, but I’d recommend it to people who are willing to skim when necessary! For me, the most frustrating part was that most of the collectors were obscenely wealthy; I couldn’t relate to them at all. Plus, it wasn’t a book about loving books, it was a book about coveting them. I expected something a ltitle different. Nonetheless, I’m glad I read it. I don’t want to buy a copy for myself, however.

This turned out to be a much shorter discussion than I expected it to be. I guess that both of my books on books were a disappointment, which limits my desire to discuss them. Do y’all have suggestions for books on books that you’ve loved?

Edited to add, I guess I was in a negative mood last night. While neither of the books lived up to expectations, they were both enjoyable, average reads. So, don’t be turned off by my overly pessimistic view of them: sometimes, we approach a book with such high expectations, it’s almost impossible for it to live up to them!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. litlove permalink
    August 30, 2007 7:47 am

    Eva – I’m waiting for my copy of the Basbanes to arrive any day, so I was delighted to read your review of it (and yes, I’m quite willing to skim!). As for other books on reading, it just so happened that I asked bloggers to recommend them on my site a few days ago, and in an entry called ‘Challenges and Lists’ you’ll find a great long list of what they all came up with. Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris was one of the big favourites, by the way.

  2. Bybee permalink
    August 30, 2007 10:55 am

    Hmmm….I’ve got to think about this for a bit……hmmmm, which do I love more, Manfred, Jr. or books? Oh well, I guess the kid wins. But what would my answer have been ten years ago when he was a thirteen year old with a mean mouth?

  3. Dorothy W. permalink
    August 30, 2007 11:40 am

    Thank you for the reviews — I’ll make sure I’m willing to skim when I pick up the Basbanes!

  4. Heather (errantdreams) permalink
    August 30, 2007 1:24 pm

    Aii. Well, if she’d write that in a public forum where her kids might read it someday, then it’s probably true. Sigh…

  5. Eva permalink
    August 30, 2007 8:32 pm

    Litlove, thanks for letting me know! I’ll definitely check it out. :)

    Bybee, good point about teens: I know that I really have no right to judge her statements. But I just couldn’t help it! I’d be so hurt if my mother ever said that she loved a hobby more than me. :(

    Dorothy, glad you enjoyed them! Of course, you might become fascinated by every word Basbanes has written and not have to skim, lol.

    Heather, yeah-I get the idea that perhaps she was pressured into having children and resents it. But I could be wrong!

  6. Petunia permalink
    August 31, 2007 8:17 pm

    Definitely read Ex Libris! It was the first book I reviewed on my blog. I loved it.

    About loving books more than children, all I can say is, there are days…..*sigh* but the children will always take up the biggest space in my heart.

  7. Eva permalink
    September 1, 2007 3:21 pm

    Petunia, it’s on the wishlist now! Of course there’re days when children are annoying…but you don’t publish it in a book! lol

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