Romance: Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook

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The Notebook begins with a man in a nursing home walking to the room of another patient in the home and opening a notebook to read her a story. In the story, Noah is 31 and has returned home after fighting in WWII. He buys a house in his rural North Carolina hometown to fix up and often thinks of an old love. He had met Allie shortly after graduating high school, and the two had a wonderful summer romance before Allie moved. The two had not seen each other since, but Noah never got over Allie. Allie, now 29 and engaged, sees an article in the paper about Noah’s home restoration project and decides to follow up with her old lover, who she never truly got over either. Allie visits Noah for a couple of days and the two realize that they never stopped loving each other. After a couple of romantic and steamy days, Allie’s mother shows up to warn that Allie’s fiancé has come to the town to look for her and, uncharacteristically, tells Allie to follow her heart. Allie tells Noah that she has to return to her fiancé, but ultimately tells her fiancé that she loves someone else and cannot marry him. Noah and Allie get married and have 4 children. The rest of the story is told by Noah, the older man in the nursing home who was reading to Allie, his wife. Allie has Alzheimer’s Disease and has progressed to a pretty bad point. Noah reads her their story every day, and on good days Allie occasionally remembers him, which is presented as the power of love overcoming her illness. The rest of the book reflects on their love, the happy life they have lived, and their children. This second half of the book is tragic due to Allie’s illness, but is ultimately uplifting and life-affirming.

The Notebook has many of the characteristics of a typical Romance. The plot centers on the relationship between two characters. These two were forced apart by outside circumstances but come back together over the course of the novel. The characters generally fit the typical stereotypes – Noah is rugged and strong, and Allie is bright and beautiful. However, Noah is everything that a Romance hero shouldn’t be: gentle, affectionate, mild-mannered, and sensible. Both characters are basically good people and are equal in their relationship. The point of view of both protagonists is given in the novel and there are engaging details of the setting (rural North Carolina). The ending is not the storybook happy ending expected in Romances, but is generally happy and optimistic (and the two did end up together, with a strong and long-lasting love). The difficulties of Allie’s Alzheimer’s Disease and the strength of Noah’s love provide a strong ’emotional pull’ that would appeal to typical Romance readers. Set in the years right after WWII, The Notebook could be said to be a historical romance, though there is limited period detail. The characters are products of their time and there is a feeling of nostalgia for simple, rural life.

I do not think that The Notebook was well written, and I did not enjoy reading it. Rather than rant about all of my complaints, I’ll just say that there was basically nothing about it that I liked. I do want to mention that one of my biggest problems with the book is that it more or less romanticizes cheating. Allie is engaged to someone else when she reunites with Noah, and only makes the decision between Noah and her fiancé after having plenty of sex with Noah.

Although I did not, I think that typical readers of Romance would enjoy The Notebook. It may also appeal to readers of Woman’s Lives and Relationships books. The details of place and feeling of nostalgia may appeal to readers of Westerns. The focus on the power of love may appeal to readers of Inspirational Fiction, though the explicit sex and cheating should be noted.

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Multicultural Fiction: Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street

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The House on Mango Street is a series of vignettes that tell of a Latina girl growing up in a poor Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. The book opens with Esperanza’s family having moved into a rundown house on Mango Street. Esperanza always wanted a house, not just a new apartment every year, but is not happy with the house on Mango Street. It is falling apart and in a bad part of town, and Esperanza constantly hopes for a better house some day, a house of her own. The book is a series of snapshots of Esperanza’s life and the other people that live on Mango Street . There is a lot of poverty, abuse, and unhappiness on the street. Esperanza struggles with typical adolescent issues compounded by her family not having the money to properly feed or clothe her, leaving her feeling ashamed of her skinniness and ugly, old clothes. The book does really not have a plot. The vignettes do not show clear aging or general growth of Esperanza, just snapshots of her and the people of the street from various times in her adolescence. It ends on a hopeful note, with Esperanza promising herself that she will leave Mango Street some day, but will later come back for those who cannot leave.

The House on Mango Street meets the basic definition of multicultural fiction—it is a book written by a Latina author about the Latina experience. The House on Mango Street is about Esperanza and her Hispanic neighbors living in America, and addresses many issues of balancing cultures. There are stories of defining what home is after leaving the country you were born in, of fitting in at a school where the others aren’t like you, and of the different perspectives on the Mango Street neighborhood held by those who are Hispanic and those who are not. There is some description of Hispanic culture, but it serves more of a backdrop for the vignettes than a topic of exploration in itself. Esperanza is an outsider in every sense. She is not at home at her mostly white Catholic school, but also feels out of place on the predominantly Hispanic Mango Street; she feels out of place with girls her age; she is determined to do better and go farther than those in her family. The focus is not as much on cultural lines as on general adolescent confusion (a ‘universal truth,’ as mentioned in the lecture). Most of the harm that is inflicted on characters is done by others of the same culture (at one point the author writes that Mexicans ‘don’t like their women strong,’ which is reflected in the majority of the female characters of the book), and other cultures are not depicted as negative other than not caring for the difficulties of poor Hispanics.

I really did not like this book. There was no plot, no character development, no change; just a series of sad stories followed by sadder stories. Some of the stories are hopeful or just everyday childhood experiences, but the vast majority are full of sadness, abuse, and hopelessness. The writing style annoyed me as well. It was odd in a way that was probably supposed to be poetic, with incomplete phrases connected by commas to form sentences and words left out at random.

I would be cautious in recommending this book because of the amount of abuse in it, but it would probably be interesting to most readers of multicultural fiction. Because of the unusual writing style, atmospheric feeling, and limited plot, it may appeal to readers of poetry. It may also appeal to those looking for a coming of age story.

Thriller: Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain

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The Andromeda Strain opens with a couple of army officials tracking down a government data collection satellite that has landed in a small town in Arizona. Upon arriving in the town, the officials discover that the town is full of dead bodies before dying a swift and mysterious death themselves. In the ensuing government reaction, it is revealed that the satellite was actually sent up to gather lifeforms (bacteria/virus/fungi) in near space (the upper limits of the atmosphere) that could be used as biological weapons. It is concluded that the satellite had successfully captured a dangerous extraterrestrial life form that somehow escaped in the town. Luckily, several years earlier a civilian group of scientists had expressed concern over space exploration vehicles returning to earth with potentially dangerous extraterrestrial life, were recruited as part of a top-secret government program, and built a special lab to isolate and research any such life. This group is called up, given the details of the government program and the resulting deaths, and brought to the lab to work. The scientists find the satellite in the town, which had been opened by a curious towns-person, as well as two survivors, and bring them back to the lab for research. Most of the book details the scientists’ progress in researching the dangerous life form, determined to be an airborne bacteria of sorts and dubbed the Andromeda strain. The scientists discover that the Andromeda strain works by multiplying in the blood stream and causing all of the blood in the body to clot solid, but will only multiply at a very narrow pH range. This is why there were two survivors—both had conditions that altered the pH of their blood. The scientists are still rushing to find a potential cure before the Andromeda strain spreads to other inhabited areas when a breach in the lab releases the quarantined bacteria. When the scientists don’t die, they realize that the Andromeda strain has mutated, has become harmless, and now attacks and disintegrates plastics, which is what caused the breach. They also conclude that the now generally harmless strain will likely float back into the outer atmosphere, where environmental conditions are more favorable to it, though the epilogue implies that the bacteria’s plastic-destroying presence there causes big problems for future space exploration.

The Andromeda Strain has all of the main characteristics of a thriller. It is face paced, compelling, and full of suspense, intrigue, and intensity. There a puzzle to solve that gets the reader involved intellectually. The stakes are high, with the potential of untold numbers of people being killed if the airborne virus spreads in the wind before the scientists can find a cure. As the lecture states, The Andromeda Strain was the first medical/scientific thriller, and provides many details on the scientific processes used by the scientists to investigate the strain. The book provides an ‘insider’s look’ at the work of a scientist, though it is not this technical expertise that saves the day. The scientists are recruited by a top-secret government agency because they alone are thought to have the ability to investigate the mysterious life form. The characters are secondary to the plot, and there really isn’t a single main hero, just a team of scientists that are not heavily developed as characters. There is also not really a question of who the scientists can trust (though there is the question of which scientific avenues to pursue in investigating the strain). The Andromeda Strain is dark, but is not gritty or especially violent. The story line is complex, cinematic, and full of surprises, and addresses several moral issue related to the plot as well. In terms of style, the narration switches between the points of view of several characters and the authors warns of coming trouble frequently. In terms of setting, the characters are hidden away in an underground lab in the middle of the desert that nearly self destructs when the strain escapes.

I was really drawn in to The Andromeda Strain and couldn’t put it down. It was fast-paced, exciting, and well written, and I enjoyed reading it. However, the ending really disappointed me. The whole book is counting down to saving the world from this bacteria, and then that bacteria just becomes harmless on its own and floats back into the upper atmosphere. It was very anti-climatic. Additionally, there were many loose ends that were never tied together or explained, leaving me with many questions at the end of the book.

Because of the unsatisfying ending, I would not generally recommend this book. If I were to, it would appeal to readers of action, adventure, and suspense because of the fast pace and intensity. It may also appeal to readers of mystery, as much of the book centers around solving the puzzle of the Andromeda strain. Even though it was written and set in the ’60s, it reads very much like a science fiction novel and would appeal to readers of that genre as well.

Inspirational Fiction: Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

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Hermann Hesse is a Nobel Prize winning Swiss author. Siddhartha is the story of a man searching for enlightenment throughout life. Born the son of a Brahman, Siddhartha is raised to be a priest. However, Siddhartha has many questions about life and their religion that the other priests cannot answer, and feels that there must be more to life. Siddhartha tries first the life of self-denial of the ascetic Samanas and then the teachings of the enlightened Buddha, but still fails to find the enlightenment he seeks. Siddhartha realizes that enlightenment is something that must be discovered on your own and cannot be learned through the teachings of others. Siddhartha also comes to the realization that finding the divine requires embracing yourself and the world around you, not denying it as he had been trying with the Samanas. Devoted to learning everything about himself and the world, Siddhartha travels to a city, gets a job as a merchant, and starts taking lessons from a courtesan on ‘the art of love.’ Over many years, Siddhartha becomes more and more entrenched in life in the city and becomes greedy, a drunkard and a gambler, and a meaner person. One day, Siddhartha realizes how far he has fallen and leaves his life in the city for a peaceful life with a ferryman on a nearby river. Siddhartha rediscovers the power of meditation and of listening and lives a simple, happy life until the courtesan from the city shows up with his 11-year-old son and dies. Siddhartha struggles with his disobedient son, who eventually runs away. Years afterwards, Siddhartha discusses his continued pain over his son leaving with his fellow ferryman, and the two meditate on the river for a long time. This helps Siddhartha once again feels an experience of enlightenment, thinking on the circular movement of life, the oneness of nature, and that everything in the world, good and bad, is still part of the same wonderful world. Finally, an old childhood friend comes by the river and Siddhartha shares what he has learned over his course of self discovery through the years.

Siddhartha is Inspirational Fiction in that it explores the quest for self-discovery and enlightenment of the protagonist. Siddhartha seeks happiness through spiritual means rather than physical means. The book also contains many inspiring messages, such as that inner peace (often used interchangeably with the terms enlightenment and happiness) can be attained. Siddhartha’s journey is not straightforward or guided by any particular principles, and several times when the protagonist seems to find enlightenment are only temporary. However, the book ends with Siddhartha finding what is implied to be lasting enlightenment, and therefore ends on a hopeful note. Siddhartha is definitely not Christian Fiction. The religious backdrop is Hinduism and Buddhism, there are no Christian morals, and there is plenty of sex (but not graphic). The plot moves slowly, there is no stark contrast of good vs evil or strong morals, and there is no clear, simple solution to the plot.

At first, I had a great deal of difficulty with this book. Unfortunately, the copy I got from the library is a cheap, poorly edited copy, and I suspect a poor translation from the original German as well. Siddhartha was difficult at times to read and I had a feeling that I wasn’t grasping all of it. After thinking about it and discussing it, I actually really like this book (and would love to revisit a different translation of it). There are a lot of thought-provoking issues and some wise advice. One of the major ideas of the book is that knowledge can be taught, but wisdom cannot – to find wisdom, or enlightenment, one must explore on one’s own. It was once I accepted this about the book and stopped looking for clear answers from it that I started appreciating it. The book had many messages that I appreciated, including exploring and figuring out for yourself rather than following proscribed rules or wisdom, seeking balance in life, learning to accept and laugh at anything life throws you, and appreciating the physical world.

Although there is a religious backdrop to this book, its messages can apply to anyone regardless of their religion or lack-thereof. It is more of a thinking book and does not have a simple, straight-forward theme. I would recommend this book to some readers of inspirational fiction, but would not recommend it to readers of Christian fiction. I would also recommend this book to readers of literary fiction.

 

Western: Larry McMurtry – Boone’s Lick

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Larry McMurtry is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Westerns. Boone’s Lick begins with Sherman (Shay) Cecil’s first real adventure while growing up in Boone Lick, Missouri. Shay and his younger brother are invited to tag along with their uncle in joining a posse led by the sheriff to round up some robbers the next town over. Instead of ambushing the robbers, the posse is ambushed, and only get the upper hand when the robbers accidentally wake up a sleeping bear who scares off all of their horses. The leader of the robbers is arrested and the Cecils return home to news of an even bigger adventure. Mary Margaret, the boys’ mother, has decided to take the family out West to find their father. Their father is a trader who travels between forts in Wyoming, only returning to Boone’s Lick once every year or two. Mary Margaret packs up her four children, her half-sister, her brother-in-law, and a friendly Native American and a traveling priest they find along the way and heads west. The family sails up the Missouri river before taking the Oregon Trail west to Wyoming. Most of the novel is about this journey and the dangers faced along the way – cold, lack of food, bears, Native Americans, etc. Upon arriving at the fort where her husband is staying, Mary Margaret tells him that she is leaving him. The next day, a large number of the soldiers at the fort are ambushed and massacred by Native Americans. The book ends with a summary of where the family members end up later in life (the Cecil family moves right back to Missouri).

Boone’s Lick fits the basic description of a Western: it’s an adventure story set in the American West in the later half of the 1800s. However, the novel does not fit many of the typical characteristics of the genre. The land is a source of harshness and difficulty to be traversed, but descriptions of the environment are short and far between. The protagonist is a survivor in difficult circumstances, but he is not heroic or brave. He is not picaresque and is not a loner, but instead part of a large family that face hardships together as a team. He is a boy but does not become a man by the end of the story. The mother, the main female character, is not civilizing, but is stubborn, brash, and unlikeable. The reason for moving west is not to pursue a dream, but for an almost whim of the mother. If anything, the general western movement of Americans is shown as a bad thing. Although the family travels West for the mother to end her relationship with her father (a chance for redemption/renewal), the family then returns to Missouri and continues to live life as they had before (when the father was never around anyway). The plot is indeed very straightforward, but even the struggle between good and evil is not so simple. The Native Americans are depicted as the natural natives to the land who are upset by the invasion of the Americans who take their land and kill of their food, and warned the Americans many times before attacking. The characters do face the difficulty of survival, but there is no justice served in the ending. Boone’s Lick best fits the subgenre of ‘Union Pacific Story’ in that the family travels with mules and their wagon to early Western settlements and the book touches on both the westward march of civilization and the army in the west.

In my opinion, this book read like a novel for a middle school boy. The plot is very simple and focuses on adventure, but without the level of danger and thrill of most adult novels. The characters are not complicated and do not change or develop. The descriptions are limited and simple, the language is basic and easy to read, and there is no mature content (sex, cursing, etc). The book is even narrated by a 15 year old boy who is most privy to his thoughts and those of his younger brother. I did not hate the book, and at times found it a bit intriguing, but was consistently disappointed by it. So much of the book is implausible – the uncle knows almost everyone the family encounters along the way, the day is always saved by a woken bear, etc. Almost no insight is given into the thoughts and motives of the adult characters who drive the story. The ending is abrupt, anti-climatic, and bizarre. There is a bit of commentary about the westward movement of Americans – the negative impact on the Native Americans, the drop in population of bison (bufflao), etc. However, this is not fleshed out and not really understood by our 15-year-old narrator. McMurtry wrote realistic dialogue, the bad grammar of which I found very annoying. I was also really bothered by the fact that the mother often left her one-year-old daughter unattended to wander around for hours at a time… I’m not sure I would recommend this to any adults, but it could be great for a 13-year-old lover of adventure stories. The novel also has several elements of historical fiction, in both individual characters the family encounters and the general setting, so it could appeal to readers of that genre as well.

Mystery: Lisa Scottoline’s Daddy’s Girl

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Daddy’s Girl is 14th book of Edgar Award winning author Lisa Scottoline. The protagonist is Nat Greco, a young law professor struggling with defining her personal life and mastering teaching. While accompanying a fellow teacher to give a lesson in a county prison, a prison riot breaks out. In the ensuing chaos, Nat happens upon an injured prison guard, who whispers, “tell my wife it’s under the floor,” to her before passing away. Driven by curiosity from this message as well as a series of fishy situations at the prison, Nat starts investigating the murder and the happenings at the prison. The adventure becomes increasingly dangerous as Nat finds herself on the run after facing personal danger and even becoming the prime suspect of the murder of a state trooper. Along the way, Nat reevaluates her relationship with her boyfriend, her handsome coworker, and her family. Eventually Nat finds herself in an abandoned barn that is covering an old hiding place on the Underground Railroad of the 19th century and realizes that the cryptic message points to the creation of a tunnel for the escape of a high security prisoner. Nat rushes to the prison, arriving just in time to stop the escape and clear her name.

Daddy’s Girl exemplifies many of the characteristics of the mystery genre. It fits the strict definition of mystery provided in the textbook, that there is a murder and an investigation of that murder. However, the book also explores the larger related mystery of what is going on at the county prison. The story ends with victory of the protagonist, and all guilty characters are put away. Like many mysteries, the story line is enhanced with “strong elements of suspense and intrigue,” and the main character encounters dangerous situations repeatedly. Characterization of the protagonist is a major sub-theme of the book. By the end of the book, Nat Greco has matured and become independent, redefined what she wants in romantic relationships, and explored her relationship with her family. The setting, current day Philadelphia and the surrounding area, from the University of Pennsylvania to the surrounding countryside, plays a role the book as well. The work of Nat and her coworkers as law professors provides interesting frame details to the novel. The tone is dark but not gritty (neither hard boiled nor soft boiled as a whole) and the pace is relatively fast – the novel is definitely a page-turner. Daddy’s Girl fits the subgenre of amateur detective mystery. The soft boiled, naive Nat Greco is a law professor by trade who becomes an investigator out of curiosity and a bit of a sense of responsibility. Of the two subtypes provided in the lecture, Nat is more of the later, pushed into investigating by circumstance and eventually becoming a police suspect for a crime rather than a natural inclination towards being a detective. The novel is missing several typical aspects of the subgenre, however. Nat Greco does not have any connection to the police force, the police force is unaware of her investigations, and her methods do not require suspension of disbelief (for the most part). Of the crime-solving methods listed in the lecture, Nat Greco ultimately uses intuition/inspiration to come to the final conclusion. There is not anything of particular note in Scottoline’s language or style, the only missing characteristic of those listed in the textbook.

Despite being drawn in by it, I did not enjoy this book. The protagonist did not strike me as realistic or likable. The sudden realization of the conclusion – that an escape tunnel is being built at the prison – is a twist I saw as not realistic or supported by the collected clues.For that reason, this book would not be great for readers who enjoy solving the mystery before the investigator. I also thought that the book was poorly written and had several plot holes.I would generally not recommend this book to others because of my personal opinion on it. However, this book is easy to read, intriguing, and a page-turner. Between this, the darker tone, and the suspense, Daddy’s Girl would likely appeal to readers of thrillers, suspense, and adventure books.

An Exploration of Genres

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One of my classes this semester is ‘Adult Materials and Reading Interests.’ The majority of the class will be spent reading and learning about different genres of popular fiction, from mystery, to western, to science fiction, and beyond. I am looking forward to experiencing the many genres that I have not read on my own, both to become more aware of what’s out there and to expand my personal reading interests. Although I am dreading a few of the genres (romance and horror, mainly), I know it will be good for me (expanding horizons, figuring out what so many people actually like about them, better preparing to work in a library, etc.).

I’ll be writing a short report on each book I read for the class, which will touch on both the book itself and the genre as a whole. I plan on sharing those reports here on my blog, both to get back into posting regularly and because I expect it to be an interesting journey through the world of fiction.

I intentionally try to read a variety of classics and books that are recommended to me, and often go to a library to find at least one random book that interests me. This will be my first time to intentionally broaden my reading in a strategic manner, however, and I am excited to see how it goes.

Finding Efficiency

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Like many people, I often feel like there is more to do than there is time to do it. My personal situation these days is more often on the scale of more things to do in life than there is time in a lifespan, so less of an acute stress, but there all the same. In the spirit of this feeling, I always strive to find more efficient ways to do things. Work smarter, not harder is a motto I love. So how do you go about being more efficient?

The first word that comes to mind in relationship to “efficiency” is multi-tasking. Unfortunately, multitasking is not a good idea. Studies have shown that trying to multi-task just makes one complete both tasks slower than had each one been done independently. Of course, like most people, I persist in my belief that *I* can make multi-tasking work, at least for some things. I often multi-task while eating, brushing my teeth, and other tasks that take little thought or effort. I also occasionally find it ideal in creating a work flow to frequently switch between two related tasks, though I am not sure if that would be considered multi-tasking.

One mistake I have to constantly keep myself from making is cleaning inefficiently. A good rule of thumb is to clean from the top down: if you sweep the kitchen floor before cleaning the counters, you’re going to have a dirty floor when you’re done. There is an ideal order to cleaning tasks, and I often need to remind myself to stop for a moment and make sure I’m following this order. I have seen in many places the suggestion to break cleaning into one task a day, to make it more manageable. I dislike this idea, as I would rather clean once for half a day than a little bit each week. There’s a lot to be said about cutting out wasted time from “on-ramps” or preparations for an activity, and I love the feeling of a perfectly clean house. There is probably a most efficient way to do almost everything, and I love looking for and thinking about what that might be.

Another big efficiency tool for me is remembering when to do less. I am a perfectionist by nature, and my basic tendency is to do everything to the utmost of my availability. This is not efficient, and I try to frequently ask myself if what I am doing is worth the time I am spending on it. Does this apple really need to be cut into perfect cubes? Does this email to my sister really need to be reread a third time? Does this paper really need five extra references when it will already earn an A? I am by no means advocating mediocrity, just not wasting time and effort making everything perfect.

On the flip side of this, it’s also important to know when doing more now will save you time later. As I mentioned above, the “on-ramps” to getting work done can take up a decent amount of time. If I am going to write the draft of an essay, for example, I like to gather all of my resources and write a draft in a single sitting. If I break it up over several days, or even in chunks throughout one day, it takes time to reorient, figure out where I left off, remember what I had planned next, etc. With many tasks, doing more of it at once will save time later. Can you double that recipe and have leftovers for an easy dinner in a few days? Can you stock up on essentials so that you need to go shopping less often? In my experience, just being aware of this idea helps me to work more efficiently.

I did some brief Google research in search of tips on finding efficiency. Many of these tips center around planning: use a schedule; keep a physically organized space; become aware of time wasters; self-impose priorities and deadlines; make lists; break large tasks into a specific plan; and on and on. Other tips include: be committed to resting and relaxing in appropriate amounts; reward yourself for work well done; challenge yourself to complete tasks more quickly; use technology to your advantage but eliminate distractions; and simplify your work. What about you? Do any readers have tips for working more efficiently?

On Book Club

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For the first time, I have become a regular attendant of a book club. There’s actually two book clubs, each meeting once a month at a nearby library, but the members are essentially identical between the two. One reads classics and the other reads relatively recent popular books. I’ve always wanted to join a book club, and am glad that I finally have. While finishing The House of the Seven Gables tonight for tomorrow’s meeting, I was reflecting on how being in a book club has affected my reading.

First and foremost, it affects what books I read. Although the members decide among themselves which books to read, and I did contribute specific titles to the list for the next several months, I am now reading books that I would probably not otherwise read. Right now I am not reading much more than the two proscribed books a month, though I do plan to change that after the semester is over. Although not all of the books would be my first (or fifth or fiftieth) pick, I do appreciate what I’m reading. I do want to read a wide variety of the classics, and I like that I am being exposed to more genres of popular fiction than I would otherwise read. Recent picks for the popular literature discussion group include The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared and Daddy’s Girl, neither of which would have ever been on my radar otherwise.

For my first couple of meetings, I came prepared with a list of specific thoughts and discussion questions about the book, but I have since decided that it’s not worth doing so. The librarian leading the discussion brings a list of questions, and it often would require disrupting the normal conversation flow to bring up my own questions. The group generally has a very smooth flow of discussion around the book, and I’ve found that it’s more fun to think and contribute on the fly than to sit down independently to think about the book beforehand. That being said, I do often have a few nagging thoughts about each book that I tend to bring up, but it’s not a full list of reflections and questions.

The constraint of reading a specific book by a specific date does sometimes impact how I read that book. Occasionally I find that I do not have time to finish a book I would like to, and catch up on Sparknotes to be prepared for the discussion. Having done so, I’m not often interested in investing the time to actually finish the book. Alternatively, I sometimes find myself finishing a book that I would not finish on my own for the sake of being prepared for discussion. This would probably be a good situation in which to turn to Sparknotes as well, but I would always rather read the original if I can. Neither of these habits would ever show up in my personal reading for pleasure, but don’t appear to me to really be problematic.

One final thought is on the nature of the group itself. We always have very lively discussions and come to many insights about the book. The discussion questions often lead me to discover aspects of or think about the book in different ways. Even when not a single member likes the book, we have interesting and productive discussions. That being said, the group can seem oddly impersonal at times. We tend to jump right into discussion of the book without much beginning small talk, continue for 90 solid minutes, and drift off unceremoniously once the meeting is done. Although I am happy with this being a largely intellectual endeavor, it would be nice to make a few friends in the process. So starting with tomorrow’s meeting, I will specifically seek out small talk before or after the meeting.

Do any readers attend a book club? How does your experience compare?

On Reading Goals

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A friend of mine recently shared with me that she is doing well on her goal of reading 30 books this year and plans to up her goal for 2016 to 35 books. She also encouraged me to set a goal for myself for 2016. At first, I thought this was a brilliant idea. I’ve read 28 books so far this year, so 35 in 2016 seems like it would be pretty doable. I love goals that I can check off progress toward, and I’m all about reading a lot.

Then I started wondering what the consequences of such a goal would be. I would probably avoid what I consider ‘project’ books (Atlas Shrugged, large Russian novels, etc) that would take up large amounts of time. I might specifically pick books that I can read more quickly just to up my number, searching through my unread books for the thinnest ones, or finish reading a book I might otherwise quit halfway through. These seem like ridiculous problems to have, but realistically, that’s probably what I would do. On the other hand, I do have plenty of smaller books on my bookcase that need to get read. I also have factors that determine which books I read that I do not fully control (such as book club) that would make sure I’m reading plenty of good novels. I can add a rule to the goal that I don’t finish a book that I’m not actually enjoying. There’s also the comforting fact that I have many years of reading left in my life, and those project books can probably wait another year (they’ve already waited this long, after all).

In the process of writing this post, I’ve decided that I will indeed give the straight number goal a try. In 2016, I aim to read 35 books. If it goes well, maybe 40 in 2017! If not, then no harm done and I’ll know better. For any goal-loving readers, what kind of reading goals have you made? How have they worked out for you?

 

 

Follow-up: 2016 started out very well, but got very busy halfway though and never really slowed down. To be honest, I forgot about having a goal at all, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Strictly speaking, I would consider my goal not-quite-but-almost-met. Stretching what is counted as a book, I met the goal and then some. In 2016, I read 33 regular books, 11 comic books, 5 children’s books, and 10 half-books that I started but gave up on.