10 October 2011

New Meme on the Block: Q & A on Reading Habits

A friend in California just alerted me to a new meme that's apparently sweeping 'my' zone of the blogosphere. It can't hurt to give it a try....

  1. Favorite childhood book? Vanity Fair.
  2. What are you reading right now? The Leopard (Jo Nesbø), Sternenstaub [=Perry Rhodan Neo, Band 1] (Frank Borsch), Was ist Aufklärung? (Kant)
  3. What books do you have on request at the library? None. I read almost exclusively digitally and, rightly or wrongly, I despair of finding the ebooks I want through the local library system.
  4. Bad book habit? Reading too many books at once. Being attracted by 'shiny objects'.
  5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Nothing. See number 3 above.
  6. Do you have an e-reader? Yes, a Kindle, a NOOKcolor and an iPad (on which I use mostly iBooks but on occasion another app).
  7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? In an ideal world I might read one at a time, but in fact I read several at once.
  8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? No.
  9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? There's nothing that I would single out to mention in this way. Actually, it's been a pretty good year so far. I set less store by my negative reactions to books than other people do to theirs; I prefer to say that there are books that I 'didn't connect with at the time'. Non-connections don't lead (in my case) to powerful insights about what books should be.
  10. Favorite book you've read this year? I can't pick just one. Four stand out: The Redeemer (Nesbø), Cinq lettres d'Egypte (Flaubert), Le funambule (Genet) and Montauk (Frisch). I was somehow surprised by all four, and less by their content than by the amount of pleasure I drew from them.
  11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? If I have such a zone, it must be quite broad. I'm almost always trying to push my own limits in some way.
  12. What is your reading comfort zone? See number 11 above--but I'd say European and New World prose of the 18th century and thereafter.
  13. Can you read on the bus? Yes.
  14. Favorite place to read? In my easy chair, in the living room, with my feet up.
  15. What is your policy on book lending? I can't remember the last time I lent a book. I confess that it's not an area where I've ever been conspicuously generous. But most books, printed books, I give away as soon as I finish reading them.
  16. Do you ever dog-ear books? Only virtually. I doubt that I have ever in my life dog-eared a printed book.
  17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? Yes, in pencil, but not as much as I used to. And I do make some digital annotations in ebooks.
  18. ...of your textbooks? Yes, in textbooks more often.
  19. What is your favorite language to read in? My most honest answer would probably be: in English, French or German indifferently. But I do have some deep-seated, half-examined weaknesses for the immediacy of the German language and for physical characteristics of cheap French paperbacks. It would probably take decades of analysis (of one sort or another) to make any more sense of this.
  20. What makes you love a book? Some combination of surprise (see number 10 above), lack of pretentiousness, textual or writerly passion, sheer beauty, daring... but for me 'the greatest of these is' surprise (in the sense used above).
  21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Any of the characteristics mentioned in number 20 above; the suspicion that other might-have-been recommenders are giving it short shrift.
  22. Favorite genre? Crime fiction, I suppose, although my greatest weakness is for what you might call 'genre-benders': for example, for books situated on the border line between crime fiction and literary fiction.
  23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)? Autobiographies from the 19th century or earlier.
  24. Favorite biography? Easy: Stefan Zweig's ('full-length', although fragmentary, posthumous) Balzac.
  25. Have you ever read a self-help book? Many of them, in the 1970s. And even today I may approach the occasional book of any randomly chosen official genre as having implications for my life. I'm not proud of it--but from time to time I display most or all of the 'bad' habits that I try to persuade others to refrain from.
  26. Favorite cookbook? I honestly can't remember ever reading a cookbook from cover to cover. The ones I've most enjoyed dipping into? Those by Julia Child.
  27. Most inspirational book you've read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? The War of Art (Steven Pressfield).
  28. Favorite reading snack? Love to read. Love to snack. Somehow, though, I never do both at the same time.
  29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. I'm honestly having trouble coming up with an example. It has surely happened frequently over the years--although more often when I was much younger, because I was more likely then to take certain other readers' opinions as reliable. It may be worth reminding ourselves that authors are generally not responsible for the hype their books receive. It doesn't seem to make sense for me to decry as overhyped the early works of some hard-boiled U.S. detective novelist of the last century or some of the later works of a doyenne of the British psychological mystery--especially if we can all agree not to take the hype so seriously in general.
  30. How often do you agree with critics about a book? I can usually see the basis of a critic's assessment--but total agreement is rare. Today I just skim reviews that I might have read very closely when I was younger.
  31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? My dislikes seem to me far less noteworthy today than they did 20 years ago.
  32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose? Of the languages that I don't know well enough to feel I can read in them, Spanish is my greatest regret.
  33. Most intimidating book you've ever read? If I rule out Proust (because La recherche was on my orals and I had to read it), and anything by Hegel (because my dissertation 'covered' 'all' of him and so I had to read him), and Ulysses (because I taught it)--and I'm not sure I should rule out any of those three--I'm not sure what I'm left with. I was well prepared by my education, meaning also by my parents, to be able to approach just about any book without much sense of intimidation. It makes more sense for me to salute my parents and all my teachers than to try to adjudicate further. If I have a 'secret' in this area, it's that most readers can read with relative ease most of what they might imagine to be intimidating. I'll blog about that soon.
  34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin? See number 33 above.
  35. Favorite poet? Shakespeare, although he didn't come to mind until after Baudelaire and Yeats.
  36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time? See number 3 above.
  37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread? Over the span of my life, not often, but it's happened.
  38. Favorite fictional character? That's a surprisingly difficult question for me, perhaps because I tend not to think in those terms. But the one answer that pops into my head is Isabel Archer (The Portrait of a Lady): I found myself watching very carefully how the characterization was done....
  39. Favorite fictional villain? Not always sure who is, and isn't, a villain. But Balzac's Vautrin (the master criminal who appears in different works under different names and who ends up in a career situation that I shouldn't 'anticipate' here; he's on board in three of the highest-profile novels, Père Goriot, Lost Illusions and A Harlot High and Low [Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes])--Vautrin is my best candidate. (Note, of course, that he is just as prone as any heroic type to loving 'not wisely but well'.)
  40. Books I'm most likely to bring on vacation? Delicious page-turners by beloved authors: e.g., Dumas, Wodehouse, Nesbø.
  41. The longest I've gone without reading. The summer I spent in Hamburg the year I turned 20. I worked in an office job all day and enjoyed the pleasures (high and low) of the city every evening and didn't manage to read at all. I find this incredible, to this very day.
  42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. Céline's Bagatelles pour un massacre. I was sure until then that I could read anything. I was wrong.
  43. What distracts you easily when you're reading? Not much....
  44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel? All that comes to mind is Trainspotting, and that's considered on its own merits, and not as an adaptation per se. I tend to think about all films, whether adaptations or not, in that way.
  45. Most disappointing film adaptation? Let me get back to you on that.
  46. The most money I've ever spent in the bookstore at one time? Years and years ago, something in excess of £200 spent on one of my then-annual visits to Hatchards.
  47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Never.
  48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through? A better offer (I'm afraid).
  49. Do you like to keep your books organized? You'd never know it--but I do!
  50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them? Give them away.
  51. Are there any books you've been avoiding? No.
  52. Name a book that made you angry.  In the sense in which I think you mean it, see number 29. In a very different sense, Les misérables.
  53. A book you didn't expect to like but did? Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
  54. A book that you expected to like but didn't? It usually doesn't turn out that way. Let me get back to you.
  55. Favorite guilt-free pleasure reading? No contradiction there. Anything I love. See number 40 above.

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