Reading for delight, reading without shame

July 4, 2014 | Maureen

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While we waited for the elevator, a colleague asked me, “What are you reading these days?” It’s just the sort of question you’d expect one librarian to ask another, and it should have been easy to answer.  But I did some quick math and realized I had six books on the go!

Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. The true story of a woman’s 1,100 mile solo hike from the Mojave Desert to Washington State.

True Grit, by Charles Portis. In 1873 fourteen year old Mattie Ross sets out to bring her father’s killer to justice in the American south.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour book store, by Robin Sloan. Clay Jannon gets a job as a clerk at a mysterious San Francisco book store that has ties to a cult-like secret society.

Failure to thrive, by Suzannah Showler. Sounds weird, but I was attracted to this new Canadian poetry book by a beautiful poem about a rotting whale carcass.

The pleasures of reading in an age of distraction, by Alan Jacobs. A professor of English literature offers some simple advice: “read at whim, read what gives you delight, and do so without shame...”

Finally, and WITHOUT shame:

Buffy the vampire slayer. Season 9, Volume 2, by Joss Whedon. Buffy Summers, of television fame, lives on slaying vampires in this graphic novel.

  Wild   True Grit   Failure to thrive
  Mr_Penumbra   Pleasures of reading   Buffy Picture

I hadn't realized what a weird combination of books they were until I added them up in my head. My reading choices reminded me of my dad, who was known for his stomach churning food combinations, like eating canned peas with ice cream. How did I pick this clashing combo, which, in fashion terms, would be like wearing plaid, poka dots and paisley all at the same time? By taking the advice of professor Jacobs: “read at whim, read what gives you delight, and do so without shame...”

How lucky I am to have access to such a vast smorgasbord of books with my library card. It makes following Professor Jacobs's advice easy. The Toronto Public Library allows you to borrow 50 physical items at one time, as well as 30 ebooks. That’s potentially 80 stories playing out in your head! Not that I’m recommending that. Few among us could keep 80 books straight in our heads. Even with a modest six books on the go, I can imagine the confusion:

Buffy tracks a pack of vampires along the Pacific Crest Trail. She meets a hiker named Cheryl, who is wearing bizarre duct tape sandals. Pitying her, Buffy lets her tag along, and they track the vampires down to the seaside, where they’ve nested in the dead body of a beached whale to hide from the sun. Inside their stinky lair, the vamps are about to feed on a professor of English literature who'd been examining the whale to enhance his reading experience of Moby Dick. Buffy hurls the professor to safety and he falls against the exact rib that activates the whale, which is actually an alternate universe portal. They appear in a place where fictional beings are real, right at the moment when young Matty Ross, busting with grit, is about to shoot the coward Tom Chaney, who murdered her father and stole his horse. But Matty is distracted by the professor who is jumping for joy, believing he has died and been flown to literary heaven via celestial whale transport, and she accidentally shoots Mr. Penumbra, who is wandering around with his nose in a book.

Not a pretty picture, is it? From now on I think I'll limit myself to no more than two books at once. Maybe three. Four if I’m on vacation. If you have a story about a shameless or excessive reading experience, please share. I can’t be the only one who has gotten themselves into a reading pickle.

By the way, I recommend every one of these books. Just not all at once.