As a voracious reader, the specifics of reading --- why do
people read, how do they find new books, authors and
subjects, when and where do they read --- interest me
as much, say, as gourmands love reading about food (okay, I like
that too) or sports fans watching and talking about sports.
Sara Nelson is a wife, mother, columnist and reviewer. (Phew!) In
what I think is a very brave decision, she set out in 2002 to read
a book a week. She chose a wide variety --- books she thought she
would like, those that had been heralded as the best in the world,
those she believed she ought to read, and those that had
been on her shelves for a long time. Sometimes people gave her a
book, other times she bought one or found a review copy at
Nelson shares some of my biases, including a hesitation about
reading "the Big Book of the Year." She's a bit leery of
"classics," although her repeated insistence that she must be the
only person who has never read a book seems ingenuous. But the real
weakness of SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME is that the author lives
in a rather constricted world. For example, she assumes that people
who reread books are snobs wishing to "trumpet their intellectual
superiority." Nonsense. We reread books because we like them ---
whether it's the characters, the language or the story itself.
Sometimes I read a book so quickly that I think I might have missed
something, so rereading it is a must for me.
Nelson goes on to complain about people who talk about books at
cocktail parties; she finds herself pretending to have read them
because she wants to fit in. Cocktail parties? Do they still have
those? Oh, right: she lives in New York. She talks about having the
right "accessory" book to bring to Fire Island and that picking her
next outfit is as important as choosing a book to read. These are
not universal problems.
Once you learn to ignore the passages about the "literary life" in
New York, there's a lot to like here. Nelson reminds us that we're
not the only ones who have too many books to choose from. She's
very daring about what she decides to read --- books that address
difficult issues or that aren't the easy reads she usually enjoys.
It's refreshing that Nelson says she did not grow up reading all
the time and came to her love of books late.
Very few of us would take on the task that Sara Nelson assigned
herself. A book a week for a year? Granted, many of us read more
than 52 books in a year, but this job requires a different
commitment and enthusiasm. I believe few of us would make it all
the way through. And even though my choices (and yours, I suspect)
would differ from Nelson's, what she did took serious dedication to
the written word.
Reviewed by Andi Shechter (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011