Tuesday, October 12, 2010

55 Questions about books

Brazenly stolen from Sheila! I thought I had done this one before, but after a brief search of the archives, I don't think I have, although some variation of these questions have turned up many times before in other book quizzes.

1. Favorite childhood book?

I probably need to go with The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander here. I've mentioned it in this space many times, but multiple mentions never hurt anybody, did they? It's the series that put me firmly in the "OMG, I love a good epic fantasy!" track, pretty much for life. (Even if it does get harder to find what I consider a good epic fantasy.)

But I also have to mention The House with a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs. My love of the gothic, the horrific, stems from that book. It continues to amaze me that there are no film adaptations of Bellairs's books! The Treasure of Alpheus T. Winterborn or The Curse of the Blue Figurine would make amazing books -- albeit with some pitfalls that would have to be handled correctly by filmmakers, specifically the fact that in just about every Bellairs book, the young hero's best friend is an adult. When done poorly, that's just a train wreck.

2. What are you reading right now?

Coyote, by Allen Steele -- an SF book (first in a series) about the colonization of an Earth-like moon 40-some lightyears away. So far, so good.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I'm reading this in small pieces, about ten to fifteen pages a day, and am as of this writing about 150 pages from the end. I'm surprised by the fact that there's not a whole lot of story in the book, and by the degree to which Melville's chapters about whales and the sea are absolutely amazing.

The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles, by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. I'm only a little way into it.

I've also been dipping into What Do YOU Care What Other People Think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard Feynman. I like to have books around to "dip" into, like poetry collections, cookbooks, essay compilations, "how-to" books (the "Dummies" books tend to be great for this kind of reading).

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

Right now, none, but I use the library and my request list very frequently.

4. Bad book habit?

Hmmmm. When I want to blog a passage from a book, I often prop it open on my desk, beside the computer, using whatever I can grab to weigh it down so it stays open to the right page. Sometimes this results in the book snapping shut anyway, causing stuff to fall all over.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

The Beatles book and the Feynman book, mentioned above; a few others that I don't recall offhand because the stack is out of my line of sight right now. We go to the library weekly, and I never leave without a few books. Sometimes I come up with nifty stuff from the New Books section; other times I browse the older stuff and grab interesting items. I also like to check out things that look like they're not checked out very often at all, in hopes that my checking it out will give it a stay of execution next time the library weeds the collection.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

No. I suppose I will have to, someday, but I really like paper. Here's a wonderful article about the social aspect of reading that Kindles and the like may damage beyond repair:

Remember when you could tell a lot about a guy by what cassette tapes—Journey or the Smiths?—littered the floor of his used station wagon? No more, because now the music of our lives is stored on MP3 players and iPhones. Our important papers live on hard drives or in the computing cloud, and DVDs are becoming obsolete, as we stream movies on demand. One by one, the meaningful artifacts that we used to scatter about our apartments and cars, disclosing our habits to any visitor, are vanishing from sight.

Nowhere is this problem more apparent, and more serious, than in the imperilment of the Public Book—the book that people identify us by because they can glimpse it on our bookshelves, or on a coffee table, or in our hands. As the Kindle and Nook march on, people's reading choices will increasingly be hidden from view. We'll go into people's houses or squeeze next to them on the subway, and we'll no longer be able to know them, or judge them, or love them, or reject them, based on the books they carry.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

Several. People sometimes ask how I can keep multiple books straight in my head; if the books are different, then it's easy. In fact, it's easy anyway. How do you keep from confusing all the teevee shows you watch straight in your head? Same thing with books.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

I don't read any more or less since then, but I do pick up reading recommendations from Blogistan all the time.

9. Least favorite book you read this year?

This year? Hmmmmm...it's been a while since I genuinely disliked something. The last book I really remember disliking was Twilight, but that was almost two years ago. I had to dig through my archives to find the last time I panned a book, and here it is. It's an epic fantasy that just didn't grab me, at all.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

Guy Gavriel Kay's gloriously beautiful Under Heaven, which I reviewed for GMR and followed up upon here.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Tough question, mainly because I'm not terribly sure of what my "comfort zone" is. I'm more like to choose something to read because it interests me, rather than because it falls within some set of parameters delineating the extent to which I like to challenge myself.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

See above.

13. Can you read on the bus?

Sure, if I was a bus rider. I can read on planes and in cars, though. No doubt I can read on trains.

14. Favorite place to read?

Home. I also like to read in coffee places, though.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

"You will return this, under penalty of death."

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Never intentionally.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

I used to -- I have a bunch of college texts that I suppose I'll never be able to donate anywhere because of all the underlining and marginalia I used to do. Now, though, not as much.

18. Not even with text books?


19. What is your favorite language to read in?


20. What makes you love a book?

It depends on what the book is about, right? If it's fiction, I want characters I can understand and care about. I also want a setting that seems real, even if it's not. I love the "sense of wonder" (or "sensawunda") that the really good SF can create. I want adventure, and I don't mind bad things happening to characters, but I don't want unending gloom-and-doom, either.

For nonfiction, I need clarity, good explanations, evidence of the writer's passion, and lively prose. I hate dry, academic writing.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

If I love it, I'll recommend it...maybe. Problem is, finding someone for whom the recommendation might work. Most of my heavy-duty reading friends are online.

22. Favorite genre?

Science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Huh. I don't read much romance or Westerns, but I don't really wish I did. Not that I avoid those genres; they're just not as much what I like as the stuff I already read.

24. Favorite biography?

Berlioz and the Romantic Century, by Jacques Barzun; Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos, by William Poundstone; Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, by Dale Pollack; The Moon's a Balloon, by David Niven.

Truth to tell, I don't read enough biographies.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

Not many, unless "How To" books count. Stephen King's On Writing, perhaps. Oh wait, that also counts as biography! Score!!!

26. Favorite cookbook?

Oooooh, I love cookbooks. I've always had great luck with Emeril Lagasse's books; my favorite is his Emeril's Potluck book.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or nonfiction)?

The afore-mentioned Under Heaven, by GGK. It's inspirational in the way that all great books are.

I also find inspiration in small places: for instance, articles in how-to magazines that teach me something new or that make me simply realize, "Oh yeah, I could totally do that!"

28. Favorite reading snack?

I like to snack, I like to read. When I do one is not necessarily dependent upon when I do the other.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

I wouldn't say this has ever happened, except for times when something hyped turned out to be something I loathed (hello, Twilight!). I have hesitated from reading books that were heavily hyped, though. Such as Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I rarely pay the slightest attention to reviews.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I'll do it if it's a review book for GMR or elsewhere, or if my reaction to the book was so negative that I just have to rip it. (Again, hello, Twilight!) Mostly, though, I don't bother finishing books I don't like, and I rarely bother to write about them.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?


33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

I don't get "intimidated", per se. No matter how many times Brothers K defeats me, I'll never be intimidated by it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

Again: I'm not intimidated to read.

35. Favorite poet?

Tennyson. Or Shakespeare.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

Between 6 and 18.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

All the time.

I've said this before, but I do like repeating myself, so: I just don't understand readers who don't use libraries. I don't get it. I love to buy books as much as anyone, and if I stopped buying now and only read what I own at this moment until I read everything on my shelves, I suspect that several years will have elapsed. But I'll never ever ever be able to afford to own a copy of every book I'd like to read. Being able to read, for free? What possible rationale could I have for not doing this?

38. Favorite fictional character?

Just one? That's madness, utter madness! But OK, I guess...ummm...Bilbo Baggins.

39. Favorite fictional villain?

Lady Macbeth? Iago? Lord Voldemort? Alpheus T. Winterborn? Father Baart? So many.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

I usually bring whatever I'm already reading, plus another book or two and maybe a magazine if I'm planning to be gone more than a day or two.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

I'm never not reading, but sometimes I go through "slackish" spells during which I read a lot less.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

Brothers K. But I'll get there, oh yes.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

Teevee. The cats, who decide that their need for attention outweighs my need for literature. The Wife, telling me that dinner is ready.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

Presumed Innocent was kind of disappointing -- it made a riveting book into a fairly lackadaisically-paced thriller. And maybe I'm stretching things, but as fun as they are, the Spiderman movies take some awful liberties with the Spidey mythos.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

Around a hundred bucks, probably.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

No set time, really. Some I'll skim a lot before reading; others I won't touch at all from the time I put it on the shelf after purchase to the time I read it.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

Characters who bore me; a plot that refuses to do anything interesting. Sometimes I "bounce" off books, too; for one reason or another (and sometimes a reason I can't even put my finger on) I'm just not "feeling it" with that particular book, and it's on to something else.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

To a small extent, but I don't do very well at this, primarily because I don't have nearly enough shelves and thus resort to the dreaded Enormous Stacks of Books On The Floor And Tables Syndrome. Not at all conducive to organization. So when I want to find a specific book, I often have a struggle on my hands.

Once in a great while I'll become convinced that I own a certain book and spend lots of time searching for it...only to eventually remember that while I heavily considered buying it, and maybe even carried it around the bookstore for an hour or two, I ultimately didn't make the purchase after all.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

I prefer to keep, but once in a while I do a mini-purge.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

I don't necessarily avoid books, but I just keep finding stuff I'd rather read. I've had Master and Commander on my shelf for years, but I just never get round to it. Why? I dunno. No real explanation.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

Hello, Twilight! The stench-filled awfulness of that book really pissed me off. And then there was the Nicholas Sparks book that was a sequel to an earlier book...in which neither of the lovers dies, so guess what happens in the sequel! (And yet, I can't quit the guy. Sigh....)

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

Hmmmm. I never read anything I don't expect to like on some level. I was surprised at the extent to which I loved Kushiel's Dart; I was just in the mood for a good Fat Fantasy, and it was so much more than that.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

I've been disillusioned with George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, ever since the series stalled after the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. The first two books in the series were amazing, wonderful, and brutal; the third was still good, but it started to feel a bit like brutality and shock for the sake of brutality and shock. The fourth, though, was a mess, with Martin actually admitting in the Author's Note that he'd basically taken a much larger book and chopped it in half just to get something out there.

I also expected to like Twilight. I really did. Vampires? Teen romance? If done well, that book would have been awesome. Instead, it was the worst reading experience of my last five years.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. (Except, possibly, for the fact that I don't hate Nicholas Sparks but feel like I maybe should!)

Wow, that was a long quiz. Fun, though!

1 comment:

??? said...

Yay, someone else who read and loved the Chronicles of Prydain as a child. And I have the same problem of finding good epic fantasy (I get bored with long book series often).
Melville writing about wales really is amazing and like you, I didn't expect Moby Dick to be what it is, but it's a favourite of mine (together with the really creepy Bartleby the Scrivener).

Twilight...argh. Enough said. Except maybe "Real men don't sparkle!".
My own version of the 55 questions's here :)