Thursday, February 03, 2005

Why We Choose Books

I remember an article I read some years ago that tried to explain what makes you pluck one book from your shelf at a particular moment and start reading it. It’s quite odd. There are all those spines, staring at you from the bookcase like puppies at a pound—pick me, pick me!—and you walk by them, unmoved, week after week.


This week at the Hurwitz house, the chosen few were Louis Begley’s SHIPWRECK, Lynne Truss’s EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES (dry, viciously smart), Paul Bowles’s COLLECTED SHORT STORIES (so brilliant, so nasty: “The Delicate Prey” made my skin crawl, “Pages from Cold Point” left me with my jaw ajar), Doyle’s ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (a reread of an illustrated volume I had from childhood—I just finished rereading all Poe’s short stories and got hooked on the quick fix of brilliant short fiction), BLOOD WARRIORS by Michael Lee Lanning (a book devoted to America’s Military Elite units), and Steve Hodel’s BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER (which I read half of after participating in an event with him some months ago but it fell behind my bed which I only just moved this week. It is one of the most courageous books I’ve encountered—my hat’s off to him on every page).

So aside from the bizarre range that indicates my varied (perverse?) tastes, here’s what’s odd. I’ve owned all of these books for not just weeks, but months. They’ve sat along with OPERATION SHYLOCK and GLAMORAMA, and MOBY DICK (yes, I confess), patiently awaiting their moment under the reading lamp. So why now?

A variety of reasons, I’d guess. A trusted recommender will add a sense of urgency (see my last entry on Penn Jillette’s SOCK). There is the critical mass concept, but sometimes in my case that works against a book (I believe I’m the last person on the continent not to have read THE DA VINCI CODE. And out of no bias against the book; it just seems like so much less fun when everyone’s doing it). There’s the “I need to read this NOW for work” explanation (why a text on lock picking currently adorns my nightstand). Then there’s the “I just read an article that mentioned this author and recultivated (Now a word! Coming soon, to theatres everywhere!) my interest to crack their damn book.” And of course, especially for Catholics and Jews, there’s the guilt model: “I’m so ignorant, I can’t believe I’ve never read Trollope.” Oh—and mustn’t forget, the “I’m doing an event with this woman and have to read her so I don’t look like a mouth-breathing reprobate at the panel.”

And sometimes, all we’re seeking is motivation. I had the pleasure of being “in conversation” onstage with T Jeff Parker—one of my favorite authors—at the West Hollywood Book Fest a few months ago, so I used the upcoming event as an excuse to read four of his older books I hadn’t yet gotten to (all great—we sometimes hate Jeff too).

But I suppose in other, less karmic cases, it’s just a matter of moving the bed and seeing what’s fallen behind.

What makes you select the next?


David J. Montgomery said...

I started to write a reply, but got carried away and ended up with a long enough post for my own blog.

So, unabashedly, I refer you to it:


Kristy said...

I pick something from Tod Goldberg's recommended list. I work my way down it like a madwoman. Once I've read all ten, then I usually read what someone has mentioned. I have Shipwreck and so...that'll be next thanks to your mention. :-) Tod's the ten commandments, muuust beeee foollloowwed.

Aquaryan said...

I have to admit that the book cover does prompt me to check the book out, then the book title, then the author. I turn the book over to read the back cover. If there is information about the book I will read it. If I have a favorite writer, I pick up future books or previous books with less hestiation. Of course, I like when people recommend books to me.