July 18, 2010

Curling Up With a Good Book

July 17, 2010

When I taught college and my students asked me how to get a better grade on their writing assignments, I replied, “Read good books.”

Not something most people do these days. A professor friend of mine requires her students to fill out a questionnaire at the beginning of each term. She asks them to write down something about themselves other people don’t know. One student answered—big secret, don’t tell anyone—, “I read books.”

So do I, except when I’m knee-deep in one of my own projects. It’s amazing how quickly other people’s bad habits can filter down into my work. So I stick to magazines and newspapers or subjects very far away from whatever I’m trying to do.

Since I’m between books, though, I’ve been reading quite a bit. Here’s a sampler:

Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money is sitting on my desk right now. I’m only a few chapters in, but already Doggett is making me feel like I’m watching the Beatles, a highly dysfunctional family, make themselves and everyone around them miserable. Yum. Can’t wait to get back to it after I finish this post.

I recently took a chance on One Day by David Nicholls, the British sometime-actor, screenwriter, and novelist. It got great reviews. Since it centers on a romantic relationship and is in the same territory as Blind Love, the book I just completed, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

The two main characters frustrated me greatly. The man, Dexter, is too self-centered and obnoxious for my taste. The woman, Emma, is thankfully more connected to the world. Sadly, they both come across as not much more than a collection of pop culture references. Though I did enjoy a lot of the dialogue, I never once believed I was eavesdropping on real people.

I barely made it to the end, which made up for everything that came before. With a nod to Thomas Hardy, Nicholls brings the narrative full circle to the very beginning of Dexter and Emma’s story. I closed my Kindle and tucked what he had done into a far corner of my brain for future use.

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help took me back to my own childhood when African-American maids and yard workers were treated as less than human. I wish, however, that there wasn’t a book-within-a-book, an overused technique, and that the publication of the black women’s story didn’t hinge upon the actions of a white woman. That was true to the time, I know, but a still too-familiar way to resolve an otherwise great read.

Finally, Andre Agassi’s Open kept me turning the pages, all the while wishing his saga would never end. He describes what it was like to compete in tense matches, especially on those days when he had a hangover or his back hurt so much he could hardly walk, let alone run around a tennis court. I know what sports injuries feel like. But, luckily, when my body doesn’t want to play, I can plop down on the sofa and hang out with a good book like this one.

I guess that’s why Agassi is a gazillionaire and I’m…an underpaid writer.

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