Bookworm

Fellow bookworms, how many unread books are in your bedside stacks or on your devices? I bought or checked out seven books in the last several days and that is enough to make me feel safe and secure. There are probably more on my iPhone Kindle app if I scroll down far enough. I don’t expect all of them to be worth recommending to anyone else. I may not even finish them all.

Why do some of us devour books? I read for entertainment, pure and simple. The only reason I have for not finishing a book is that it does not entertain me. The books I buy these days are usually ebook specials that cost no more than $2-3, so I don’t feel like I have to read them to the end if I don’t enjoy them. Try Bookbub for marked-down ebooks.

A book I recently started and discarded, for example, was The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba, by Chanel Cleeton. It had much to recommend it: a historical novel based on actual events with several potentially interesting female central characters. Problem was, the writing was clunky and the characters never really came to life. I didn’t care enough about anything or anybody to wade through repetitive scenes. It moved slowly. It did not entertain me.

For entertainment I require action of some kind (as I sit in my wicker armchair on my side porch). Action can take the form of plot movement or character development or good old thriller-type, page-turning suspense and murder mystery action. I also like to learn something new—historical novels and foreign settings and authors are often good for this. And I like to have some sympathy for the folks in the story. This is why you will not find many middle-class-dysfunctional-family tales in my lists of favorites.

Finally there is the je ne sais quoi of just good writing. Although I can enjoy entertaining novels by some not-great writers—Sara Paretsky and Tony Hillerman come to mind—I love great craftmanship. Action writer Tom Clancy, no; Lee Child, yes. I just waded through a 700+ page-turner (length is not a deterrent to me but a delicious invitation) called I am Pilgrim but I will not read that author, Terry Hayes, again–not a good craftsman. But I read Paretsky and Hillerman for their characters and settings, Chicago and Navajo country, respectively. Sadly, “read” is past tense for Hillerman. Since his death his daughter Anne has tried to continue the series but she is not up to her father’s standards, which were not all that high to begin with but he did invent tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee and for that he deserves great credit. They’re some of my favorites, along with Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe of the Botswanan No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

So movement/action, learning/new territory, empathy for characters, and quality of writing entertain me. While I read mostly fiction, I also enjoy memoirs that have these qualities and occasionally I will put up with standard nonfiction if I really want to learn something that I can’t get through stories. However, much of the best nonfiction also has these qualities. Investigative journalist Michael Lewis writes that way. Read his latest–Premonition: A Pandemic Story. That was actually the last book for which I paid full price.

The last book I read that entertained me in every way was Restoration by Rose Tremain. It is a historical novel set in the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Charles himself features prominently and is portrayed as a despot who displays flashes of wisdom and compassion. But the main character, Merivel, is fictional. He tells his own story, the rags to riches to rags to wisdom story of his own “restoration.” I was as intrigued with him as I was with Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell in the Wolf Hall trilogy. I prefer getting my history through the stories of individuals who are neither heroes nor villains but imperfect and sympathetic human beings. Also, the themes of Restoration are relevant to our times. Tremain says she wrote it in 1988 in response to the rise of selfishness and materialism under Thatcher and Reagan, a trend for which we continue to pay the price.

I will try to report more often on the books that entertain me. Fellow bookworms, why do you read? What are you reading and loving?

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