“The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions.” — Craig Mod
The New York Times says print is far from dead, and Craig Mod asks if digital books will ever replace print. After a torrid but brief love affair, I admit that I have been reading less on the Kindle and succumbing more to the allure of physical books. I still use the Kindle for throwaway books, travel, library books, and sampling. I think it is a terrific tool that has its uses, but it is not a replacement for books as objects. When I catalog my reads, I always categorize Kindle books as “read but unowned,” because books on the Kindle do not feel like they are really mine.
Margaret Atwood again: She says now is not the time for realistic fiction. When is it ever the time? If you’re looking for some wonderfully unrealistic fiction, try Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, among the best books I’ve read all year; here’s a piece about writing it by VanderMeer in The Atlantic.
Let’s wrap up with a couple of fun infographics: one celebrating banned books week, and one celebrating Halloween monsters.
I used to love long books. I liked getting sucked into a fictional world and really getting to know a large cast of characters. The absorbing sweep and breadth of an epic is hard to beat. Some of my favorite long books include: East of Eden by John Steinbeck; The Stand by Stephen King; Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Anathem by Neal Stephenson; The Passage by Justin Cronin; NOS4A2 by Joe Hill; and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (although the sequels do grow to ridiculous proportions). All are guaranteed to take you far, far away from ordinary life for a good long while.
However, I have noticed a worrying trend in recent popular novels. It seems like many books are unnecessarily long. As Ian McEwan has said, “Very few novels earn their length.” Even when the book itself is pretty good, too much of it can be exhausting. I’m thinking particularly of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, but I’m sure there are other examples. Like movies, books have become super-sized. Do publishers think we need more pages to feel like we’re getting good value, even when all those extra pages don’t have that much more to say? Perhaps a long book, like a long movie, is better positioned to win a major award? Or does the job of editor just not exist anymore?
I’ve come to the point where if I pick up a book and see that it’s over 500 pages, I put it right back on the shelf. I don’t have the endurance to sit through a 3-hour movie or to read a massive tome anymore, it seems. I may be missing out on a few good long books, but with my extra reading time, I’m cultivating a new appreciation for the short novel. I admire an author who can deliver an impact in few words.
Some recommended short novels: Persuasion by Jane Austen; The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells; The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson; The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin; Grendel by John Gardner; A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Want more? Buzzfeed has a list (of course).
P.S. I currently have two genuine bricks sitting on my “to read” shelf, which I promise myself I’ll get to as soon as I feel like sinking into a long book again. They are classics, though: Middlemarch and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Here’s an autumnal book for you! I review the haunted house story Rooms by Lauren Oliver on my book review blog, Books Worth Reading.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to eschew my electronic tasks list, calendar, and notepad in favor of a pen-and-paper system, i.e., a notebook. I was inspired by Austin Kleon’s suggestion to go analog to improve creativity. So far, it’s been working well, other than the small inconvenience that the notebook I chose is just a little too small. However, it has perforated pages, which I really like–I can tear out pages once they’re used up.
I enjoy the satisfaction of physically crossing items off in my notebook as I accomplish the goals I’ve set. I am definitely more productive. Perhaps the reward of crossing off is enough to motivate me to actually do what I set out to do.
The most surprising result, though, is that using the paper notebook really has improved my memory. I was seriously starting to get worried, because it seemed like I would forget everything. Just minutes after someone asked me to do something, it would fly out of my brain. I would walk into rooms with no idea why I was there. The act of physically writing things into my notebook and then reviewing them once or twice daily has helped cement them in my mind, though. I can now remember what I need to do without actually looking at me to-do list first, which is amazing. I think my improved memory is helping me get more done too.
Regardless, I am a convert back to paper notebooks. Is it possible that such a small change could significantly boost my happiness? Seems so.
I review three anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams on my book review website, Books Worth Reading. Have you been wanting to try a new genre: dystopia, post-apocalypse, or multiverse? A well-edited anthology can be a great introduction to a genre as well as a good way to discover new writers.