booking through thursday: best or favorite?

Are “best” and “favorite” the same thing? If someone asked you “What’s the best book you ever read?” would the answer be the same as for “What’s your favorite?”

I think that both concepts of “best” and “favorite” are so, so subjective. Okay, so let’s say a particular book is written well, character development, story arch, etc. … all signs of a greatness. But who can honestly say it’s the “best” one? Maybe the author is qualified and has the right to say “this is my best work.” But still—critics and readers may find it NOT to be the best. Or is the author just favoring this particular book, their latest? It’s such a fine line!

Whether it’s books, art, music, or anything else in the arts, quantifiers for “best” and “favorite” are all in the eye of the beholder, I think. Also, are we talking about BEST EVER?? Or just that individual author’s best work? Who really has the right and qualifications to declare something “the best” (without adding, “in my opinion”)? Do rave reviews count? Published critics? Community consensus? We all certainly have the right to have our own favorites, though. People will debate what’s “the best” for all of human history, but no one can take your favorite away from you.

As for the second part of this week’s question, I can’t say I have any ONE book that I consider “the best.” I like lots of different books for lots of different reasons, and my favorites are all very different. And of course, over time tastes and interests change, and something you may have loved in your 20s isn’t quite so appealing in your 30s (or whatever). So I’m usually pretty careful about what I declare as the best (in my opinion!) or a favorite (of mine!) because I’m pretty sure I’ll change my mind in a few years 🙂

Would you say there are differences between “best” and “favorite”? What do you think?

booking through thursday: mental imagery pt 2

Connected to last week’s—it’s one of the ways writing has changed. Books from a century or two ago spent huge swaths of text describing locations and character traits, but modern writing does all of this in shorthand. You might know a character is short with blond hair and blue eyes, but the author leaves the rest for you to figure out on your own. The writer might tell you the story takes place at a beachside town, but leaves the details to your imagination. Why do you suppose this is? Is it that we have shorter attention spans these days? That, bombarded with video and photos as we are, we don’t NEED every detail of an unknown scene described, because we have a stock of images already in our heads?

Great prompt! If you visit me here at this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m not much of a classics reader, but I remember some of the lengthy descriptions in such books from my high school curriculum. I have read a lot of contemporary fiction lately and can think of a couple of books that exercise this “less is more” technique when it comes to details:

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. Hamid uses a second-person, present-tense style in a self-help book format and leaves all people and places unnamed, which at first is jarring and stark, but ends up engaging the reader. How can you not be engaged, the protagonist is “you.”

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Told almost entirely through a variety of letters, memos, emails, and other correspondance, this one leaves it up to the reader to piece together the events because they aren’t unfolding in front of you.

I really enjoyed both of these books—they were fast paced, plot driven, and imaginative. I agree that television and other visual media have a lot to do with this new trend in book writing. Books used to BE the main form of escapism entertainment—now television by far dominates that pastime, and it does the imagining for you. And after I see a film adaptation of a book I’d already read, I have this sort of strange reset memory thing that happens. No matter how vivid the book was in my mind, after I see the film that’s all I can imagine when I think of it (picturing the actors’ faces and other stuff unique to the film instead of what I originally saw in my mind’s eye as I read).

I don’t think one style is better than the other. It’s all subjective—what you are in the mood for and if the story appeals to you. The talent of the author and their writing craftsmanship plays a big part, too. Perhaps there is a long descriptive passage, but unless it drives the story it’s just useless verbosity. But with the right author descriptive writing can be wonderful and fun to read.

For my personal reading experience, description-heavy books in general tend to weigh me down. For example, Ian McEwan’s Atonement—I recognize and respect it as a stellar work of fiction, but I have to admit many of its long-winded sections of internalized narrative (the characters just thinking about stuff and how they feel about it for pages and pages…) wore me out.

What do you think the reasons are for this “less is more” trend with descriptions in books?

booking through thursday: mental imagery

How much do you visualize when you read? Do you imagine faces for the characters? Can you see the locations in your mind’s eye? Or do you just plunge ahead with the story, letting the imagery fall to the wayside?

I think this depends on the quality or nature of the writing. For example, last year I read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, set in India, and it was one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever encountered. A year later it’s still with me. Mistry’s descriptions of the anonymous poverty-stricken Indian city by the sea were so vivid, and the character’s personalities and appearances so carefully constructed that I feel like I really experienced the story to the fullest. Also, Mistry’s style is quiet, honed, and beautiful so it was incredibly easy to imagine faces, events, and locations with my mind’s eye.

Currently I’m reading Corban Addison’s debut novel A Walk Across the Sun, also set in India, mostly in Bombay (so far). Mistry is of course a more seasoned author and Addison new, so Addison’s descriptions aren’t quite as detailed as Mistry’s, especially of locations. Mistry placed me right there in the story with the characters, and I feel like Addison is telling me a story. While Addison’s book has a moving and powerful message about human trafficking and I’m enjoying reading it, I’m just not as emotionally invested—I feel at arm’s length for some reason. (This could be due to a number of external factors, too, like just my timing of reading or that we just moved last month, whatever.)

But in general, I’d say that images of locations are easier for me to conjure mentally while I read. Faces are tougher—often I can get sucked in enough that I see what the character sees, so I’m mentally and emotionally embodying the character and not picturing a separate being carrying out the events of the story. It was fun to try to pick out the dream cast for a few books on a recent Booking Through Thursday post, though!

How about you—what do you “see” while you read?

booking through thursday: quality v. quantity

Which is more important:
quality for your reading or quantity?

Quality, of course! Who wouldn’t say quality is more important? I do a lot of checking around on books in advance—on blogs, reviews, etc.—before giving it a go. I’ve bought a bunch of books that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I know will be fantastic and I can’t wait to get to them all. However…

I may have mentioned on the blog before that I’m a competitive person. I loved playing team sports as a kid, but I admit I took losses pretty hard (not that I was a sore/poor loser, just really really hated to lose and would beat myself up emotionally after a loss!). This has taken years to reign in—my competitiveness still exists, but now I’m mostly just competitive with myself. Switching to golf and yoga was so good for me. And now it has made it’s way into my book reading habits, especially this year when I joined some online challenges like the TBR Pile (2 books behind at the moment… grrr) and Eclectic Reader. I have reading goals now and I know I’ll be pissed if I don’t read all my 12 books for each! I have to beat the number of books I read the previous year! (Which I just did, incidentally—40 total in 2012, just got to 40 this week for 2013.) Although deep in my heart I know this is just kind of ridiculous and it’s totally okay if I don’t read as much as I aim for. But I’m having fun and enjoying my books. That’s the most important thing!

How about you—is quality or quantity more important to you? (Do I even have to ask? 😉 )

booking through thursday: memory reset

If you could magically reset things so that you had the chance to read a favorite book/series again for the first time, which would you choose and why? Since tastes change, do you think it would have the same affect on you, reading it now, as it did when you read it the first time? Would you love it just as much? Would you risk it?

When Netflix first was becoming popular and I signed up for it, of course there were tons of old kids TV shows on there that I remembered LOVING when I was younger. I thought it would be fun taking a trip town memory lane and re-watch some of them. Yeah… not so much. Just terrible! But with books, the experience may be different… especially if your memory is completely erased.

For me, some of the books I consider “favorites” I read so long ago, it might well be like reading again for the first time if I decide to go back. Here are a few I can think of that I’ve only read once more recently but consider favorites:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale … Margaret Atwood
  • I Know This Much is True … Wally Lamb
  • In Cold Blood … Truman Capote
  • My Life in France … Julia Child
  • The Road … Cormac McCarthy

I remember the feelings I had reading them, but not every detail of the plot, not every character. So I think it would be okay to go back. I suspect I’d still love all of these; it hasn’t been too too long. Although there are a couple on my Goodreads “favorites” shelf that I’m wondering why I put them on there—not entirely sure they still deserve that status: Water for Elephants by Sara Green and The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Not that they were bad—I definitely remember enjoying them a lot, but I’m not sure they have stayed with me much. I don’t feel like I would necessarily like to re-read them someday, unlike the rest in the list above.

I think the books that I might have the most different feelings about if I went back to them afresh are things I read as a kid, like the V.C. Andrews: Flowers in the Attic series, stuff by Roald Dahl and Michael Crichton (again, good—some favorites as a kid, but now? I don’t know. Not as into fantasy and sci-fi as I used to be), and a few I loved in high school:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front … Erich Maria Remarque
  • Death Be Not Proud … John Gunther
  • The Jungle … Upton Sinclair
  • To Kill a Mockingbird … Harper Lee
  • The Lord of the Flies … William Golding

These five listed particularly blew me away at that time in my life, and I felt so strongly about them that I’d worry I’d lose that feeling going back. Maybe it’s been too long since I read them…

How about you—would you go back to read a favorite book for the first time again?

booking through thursday: moving

What kind of moving experiences have you had with your books? Did having to pack and move your books cause any changes in your book-collecting habits? Did it make you wish you had everything on an e-reader?

PERFECT TIMING, Booking Through Thursday! I’m actually moving (AGAIN) this weekend. Well… it’s  like this. For the last two years my husband and I rented an adorable little house in a cute neighborhood I’ve been wanting to get into for years. In February, our landlords told us they wanted to sell the house, and since our lease was up on March 31 they preferred not to renew (or go month-to-month) with us, and asked us to move out. Logically, sure, that’s all fine, we got plenty of advance notice and our lease was ending after all… but emotionally… !!!NOOO!!! 😦 Not only was I really sad to leave the house, but the timing could NOT have been more horrible. Nick had already booked out-of-town conference travel for roughly half of the days in March and then he was gone the actual last day, so I had to move us on my own (with the help of wonderful friends and family! but it was weird without him there). On top of Nick being away for some of that time, it was SMACK in the middle of the semester, when he was trying to finish up his doctoral degree (last coursework, comps exams, and dissertation), and there was zero time to search for a new place (and not much available in early spring)… not only that, we were waiting to find out if we were possibly going to move overseas for the next year, so why sign a new 12-mo lease here? Anyway, we put everything in a storage unit and luckily we were able to rent a furnished room month-to-month in our professors’ guest house until now. Phew!

Since I thought we might be moving abroad, I packed our things differently and more securely than I ever packed before. (In the past, I used to just throw my books in a rolling-suitcase and unpack them right away at my new apartment.) I mean, we might not see this stuff for a few years!! Well, it turns out the move abroad didn’t work out, so I spent the summer apartment hunting here and found a good place for us starting August 1. Here’s the kicker, though—Nick is away now, too! If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know he’s a composition fellow at the Aspen Summer Music Festival until mid-August. Again, I’m super lucky and grateful to have a great group of friends volunteer to pitch in to move our stuff from the storage unit this weekend.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about when the hauling in done, how I want to handle the unpacking. Do I really want to unpack my boxes of books, just so they can sit on a bookshelf (unread, no doubt) for a year? What if I just left them in the boxes in a closet, would that be so horrible? That goes for DVDs and CDs, too. And it’s not like I have thousands of books. I think maybe it amounts to around 20 medium/smallish boxes. I just feel like, after what we just went through a few months ago, and if there’s the possibility of moving again in just 11 months, why bother unpacking the non-essentials? Of course I will have books around, things I’m currently reading or get over the next year. But all the old ones already read and in boxes? I’m strongly leaning towards leaving them packed up!

If moving abroad had worked out I would have definitely gotten an e-reader, although I got an iPad mini as a surprise gift a few months ago and have been using that to dip my toes into e-reading. It’s all right, but I still like a physical book better. I’d never get rid of all my books, I think. After this experience this year with moving, too, I’m more enthusiastic about using my local library 🙂

How about you and packing/moving your books? Moving sucks no matter what, amirite??