Saturday, March 14, 2009

How Many Books Are You Reading Right Now?

One of the presenters at BookNet Canada Tech Forum 2009 had mentioned a couple of times during his presenation of the Sony ebook Reader the fact that he often reads more than one book at a time, and switches what he reads based on the mood he's in, where he is, etc.

I can understand that. When I used to commute into Toronto, I'd always have some sort of thin book (usually a paperback or mass market book) that I kept in my laptop bag, for reading on the GO train. I'd save the hardcovers or the really thick books for the bedside table.

But I found it would be an interesting question from one booklover to another not to ask "what book are you reading?" but rather "how many and which books are you reading?"

As for myself, here's a breakdown of the books that are currently in my various "in progress" reading piles.

Me Minus 173: From 328 Pounds to the Boston Marathon
Alicia Snell
I started reading this on Thursday morning when I was on the GO Train heading in to the BNC Tech Forum in Toronto. Alicia had done a book event at my bookstore in Hamilton the day before, was an incredibly fascinating and motivating speaker, and when she read a couple of passages from the book I knew I had to read the rest of it in its entirety. (Interestingly enough, since I helped format the book for her -- she printed it on our Espresso Book Machine -- I had read at least the first paragraph of each chapter and bits throughout. Here's the cool thing. While formatting the book, I had to keep reminding myself to STOP reading, and get back to formatting, because her writing draws you in so powerfully. For example, the book opens with the following line. "There is a fat world and a thin world and I have lived in both." How could you NOT want to keep reading when the writing is that compelling? I'm currently on page 111.

The Book of Negroes
Lawrence Hill
I bought the book back in October 2008 when Lawrence was the Writer in Residence at McMaster. And again, though I was moved by Lawrence's talk and reading when he was in the store and wanted to pick up the book immediately, there were just too many other books on my "in progress" pile to add it at the time. I'm kicking myself over not simply pushing those other books aside now. I often do that. I hang onto this book I bought for months or even years before I pick it up to read -- and then, once I read it, I curse myself for putting off such a fantastic read. Larry's book is like that. He is a marvellous, brilliant writer. His story is vivid and tangible; his characters are continually in my heart nomatter when I put the book down. It's easy to see why he is winning so many awards and getting so much acclaim for this incredibly powerful novel. I'm on page 137. (FYI, in the U.S. this novel was published under the title "Someone Knows My Name")

Hannibal Rising
Thomas Harris
I hate wasting time when I can be doing something with lost time. There are many moments in a person's day where short bursts of "reading" can help fill the time (waiting in line, waiting in traffic, walking to and from work, etc) Since it's difficult for me to always have a book with me, I decided a few years ago, that I'd select books I wanted to read, and listen to the unabridged version of them. I then copy the files to my mp3 player and keep it handy for when I'm driving and don't want to listen to the continually repeated top 40 crap on the radio, or while I'm on the treadmill, or walking to work, or waiting in line at the grocey store, etc. I've read a few of Harris's other novels and was particularly fasinated with the character of Hannibal. There were some great passages in the book Hannibal that offered an insight into the mansions of the mind of Dr. Lecter as well as his childhood, so when Harris came out with a look at Hannibal's childhood, I knew I was going to enjoy that exploration. This unabridged audio version I'm listening to is read by the author and is quite good. I'm halfway through disc 4 of 6 (not quite sure what page number that is)

Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King
Lisa Rogak
A friend sent me an ARC of this book several months ago -- and again, though I wanted to pick it up back then, I found myself only recently grabbing onto it. I've always enjoyed a behind the scenes look at this brilliant writer, and get the sense I'll get a good view of it. I started reading it about a week ago, but ended up not being in the mood for it and so picked up Larry's book instead and started plowing through that. (When I mean plowing through a book, I should mention that I'm a terribly slow my kind of plowing is often slower than the average person's plowing through a book). I'm on page 21.

The Need To Kill: Inside the World of the Serial Killer
Steven A. Egger
This is, at it appears, a profile of various serial killers, a look into the pathology of them. One of the most fascinating courses I took back in university was a class in Criminal Behaviour in which our instructor (who used to work for the RCMP) spent some time teaching us about psycopathy and other fascinating things that are now more popularly know thanks to television shows about police procedure and crime scence investigations (such as Criminal Minds, which is among the more intelligent of these shows, IMHO) To me, this book is useful reference material for my own writing -- as I'm reading it, I'm storing bits of information that I am likely going to use in my own fiction. I'm on page 187.

First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently
Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman
I'm not actually reading this book in the traditional sense. Instead, I'm skipping around through it. This book was highly recommended in a wonderful management orientation program I'm attending at McMaster -- and so I've been doing readings from it based on the various topics we've been covering over the past 8 sessions of the "class" -- so I'm doing a lot of jumping around within this. (I'm sort of on page 195, 28 and 223)

A Short History of Nearly Everything (Special Illustrated Edition)
Bill Bryson
Here's one of those books that I know is going to take me a loooooong time to get through, but which I keep on the back burner for a while. As a basic overview of the history of scientific learnings, it's a fascinating read -- and it is giving me all kinds of insights into discovery and basic science from way back. Like the serial killer book, this one can be considered reference for my writing. Inspired by the intense research Robert J. Sawyer often delves into when he begins working on a new novel, I have always found it fun to learn a bit about specific scientific areas that I'm not familiar with, often finding that just by reading about these things I am inspired to ask "what if" questions that turn into science fiction stories. This one, though, doesn't delve into anything too deep, which is good to give me a generic overview. I'm really enjoying it. But it's often too much for my little mind to digest in large chunks. So I have decided this will be one of those books that I pick away at in small chunks. I'm on page 171.

So there are 7 books that I'm currently reading.

And I'm a bit surprised to see how many non-fiction books are on my list. If you were to ask me, off the top of my head I'd likely tell you that 80% of what I read is fiction and perhaps 20% is non-fiction and that at any given time I likely have 1 fiction book and 1 non-fiction book on the go. Similarly, I one a Sony Reader and quite enjoy it -- only, I haven't read a book on it in a while -- and it was during my GO Train ride that I thought I should have downloaded something to read on the train (as slipping that VERY thin Sony Reader out of my bag is so much easier than a conventional book -- and reading standing up, etc, is also easier with the Sony Reader than a traditional printed book)

But upon looking at the books on my "currently reading" pile I see only 2 fiction books and 5 non-fiction. I never would have guessed that.

I'm not even going to start listing the books in my "to read" pile, as there are at least 30 or 40 books I've bought in the past year or so that I still have to pick up, nevermind the other dozen or more books that I'm currently wanting to purchase......

So, how many and which books are YOU reading right now?


lime said...

i have a hard time dealing with more than one book at a time though i may add magazines like smithsonian into the mix. right now i'm reading fluke by christopher moore.

W Murray said...

I became intrigued to look at how many books I have bouncing around at various stages and places. So, the hunt for book marks and pencils sticking out from between the pages began…

Bad Business
Robert B. Parker
I am a self-confessed Parker fan, especially the Spenser (spelled like the poet) detective series that spans 36 novels and counting. Spenser is an aging character throughout the series, allowing the audience to grow both with him and his cast of friends/enemies. Parker is quite good at creating a character driven series that confronts social and moral issues while still maintaining the stylings of Hammett and Chandler. I promised myself that I would reread the entire series as a treat after completing my exams last summer...still at it but getting close to the end (about 30 books in). This one lives on the bed table.

A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada
John Ralston Saul
This was a gift at Christmas. I've never read Saul before and wasn't sure what to expect. I was riveted early at his posit that Canada is a M├ętis nation build on the three pillars of English, French, and Native Canadian. He does a fantastic job highlighting how our current social structures came into existence, how they differ so radically from our neighbours to the south, and how our nation is in a state of flux as we have drifted from our founding tenets. I tend to read this one in short bursts then ponder what he has presented.

Course in General Linguistics
Ferdinand de Saussure
This is part of my 6 am reading routine before heading to work. Currently, I’m reading about the impacts of language, both structurally and in use (the formal rules and language as we use it every day). Interestingly enough, Saussure is considered a key player in the French structuralist movement, yet he died before ever writing down his lectures on semiotics. The book was actually written from a collection of his detailed notes plus notes from his students, and then published under his name.

How to Write a Lot
Paul J. Silvia
This book is always close by. Dr. Silvia put together a fast read that highlights some very practical techniques on how to write more. This isn’t a book on thinking about writing or pondering about the deeper issues in writing; it is a no-holds barred, no excuses, stop thinking and start writing book. Of course, it’s about academic writing. He has two tenets: professional writers write, period & get your writing done so you can actually live life, not write.

So, 4 books on the go at the same time. Not too bad! I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to finish one book before starting another and it seems to be working. Like Mark, I’m not going to start listing my pile of books to read. It is pretty long. I also didn’t count any of the reference or text books that live on/near/in my desk than seem to be constantly open. They have moved into their respective places and have left reading-in-progress category.