Comments on "Room for Debate"

A few weeks ago The New York TimesRoom for Debate posed the questions: Is "summer reading" now just "reading"? Have novels become more entertaining, and less of a cultural touchstone or a political voice? I read every opinion and came away tilting my head and making strange faces.

Jane Smiley, the only woman on the panel, and why was that, talked about the freedom to imagine and contemplate, and how reading novels gives readers the opportunity to “see the world through alien perspectives.” William Deresiewicz was poetic. Here I’m paraphrasing: fine writers are still writing, but sometimes it takes us a while to recognize them and while we are working on that, the novel continues to tell us stories, in many forms and many voices.

James Gunn set up a lightening rod when he attacked Henry James saying no one reads his “literary” novels and generally skewering almost all contemporary literary novels. The more social and political the theme of the book, the less literary the book, he says. Huh? Name one book that challenges that. I’ll begin with any of Edgewidge Danticat’s novels. For social commentary he suggest reading crime novels or science fiction.

I’m not going to summarize everyone’s statement (you can read this Room for Debate online), but Matt de la Peña hit a real nerve, I think. We don’t want to be sad or self-reflective. “Life is sad, man,” he writes, and it is part of life to have “bouts of melancholy”. He mentions other media and shorter attention spans, but I wonder if it isn’t about the world being too much with us, not getting and spending necessarily, but just too much work, too much news, too much media, too much sadness, too much, too much. We so often have no mental space in which to rest. Lighter novels provide that, yes, year-round.

At the moment, I’m reading Teju Cole’s Open City and it’s taking me some time because it makes me sad. It’s well written – dare I say literary – and the writer’s intelligence is apparent from the very beginning, and I love that. A good book and a good read, but not right before I go to sleep. For that time, I do need something different. Is this okay? Definitely. We chose books that are right for the moment. If, however, there is never a moment for more challenging reading, what does that say?

- Ellyne

New In-Store Reading Group

Isaac Salazar

Did you know we host book groups here at the Bookloft? We meet at the store one evening a month, and members receive a 10% discount on any book the group selects.

Right now, we are starting a new group! If you're interested in joining, call or email us with your contact information and your best night to meet (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday).  

If you have a book group already, ask us about book recommendations and discounts for your club.

(413) 528-1521 

Binocular Vision

About a year ago a customer whose reading preferences coincide with mine told me to read Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman. The bedside pile, however, was as tall as a year, so I am just now passing this recommendation on to you. After reading the first story I needed to wait a bit before starting the second. It was just so rich. Same for the second and the third, but after the fourth story - well, it was like eating potato chips: I just couldn't stop.

Each story reflects this author's ability to create whole worlds and lives that feel so real; and she does this with grace, and with compassion for our very human frailties. Don't miss this one, even if you usually shy away from short stories.


New Staff Picks!

We've got some new staff picks incoming, so I'll cut to the chase.

About Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Lauren says: "Such a pleasure."

And I found one of Jeff Vandermeer's earlier works quite enjoyable; City of Saints and Madmen is "a singular labyrinthine enigma built of exotic people, enchanted fungus, and sensuous horror."

Finally, Christina's first three picks are up, so check and see if she shares your interests! Home by Toni Morrison "is the newest haunting and original work from the grande dame of contemporary American fiction," and that Role Models by John Waters "made me feel warm and fuzzy."

- Alec

Rediscovering a Love of Reading

I'm sure you, like I, get into a so-called "reading rut" from time to time. I've found this often accompanies other trials in life; for me, moving home and building the beginnings of a career took up much of my time. Months passed with little temptation to commit a significant amount of time to reading. Excuses weaved themselves through my head and when I did try I found it difficult to concentrate. How could I justifiably claim to love reading if I could barely do so? With so many interesting titles coming up in June, could I afford to have them ruined by this literary funk?

And so I challenged myself. I had a week with very few commitments. I would use that week to read - and not just read, but read a book every day for the entirety. I gave myself a few rules: the books had to be at least 300 pages long; I would keep it to books marketed to adults; and I was allowed to read ahead in the next day's book if I finished early.

So I sat down on Tuesday morning, May 29th, before work and began reading Gateway by Frederik Pohl, and finished it later that evening. I enjoyed it as I hadn't enjoyed a book in a long while. It was fantastic, and reminded me of exactly what I could find between book covers. A weight had been lifted from my conscience, though I had not even been aware I was feeling any sort of guilt; looking back, it must have been guilt borne of ignoring friends.

Old friends, some of them were. I caught up with the characters I loved nestled within Timothy Zahn's Quadrail series, and some new ones from across the time and genre spectrum. The healthy mix of known and unknown was key to making it through the week. Seven days and seven books later, I feel light and refreshed. I suppose the point is that, if life is closing in, never underestimate the value of escaping it all. Make time to read, set a goal. You never know where you'll find yourself at the end.

I was alerted, also, that this is hardly a unique idea. Nina Sankovitch read a book a day for an entire year as a method of grieving, and wrote Tolstoy and the Purple Chair about her revelations. Consider it on my list.

Final Tally: Total: 2,779 pages

- Alec