Reading

I come from a family of readers.  My paternal grandfather was a farmer who read voraciously, and had shelves of books in his house. He had an entire set of Dickens, all of Shakespeare’s plays, and many, many history books and novels, which he picked up at farm sales during the Depression. When he died, I took the books, and my librarian cousin took the shelves, which were the kind used by lawyers that had glass fronts that opened up from the bottom.  I think they are called Barrister’s bookcases

Grandpa’s grandfather was a reader, too. He was named Martin Cornelius Freerks, and was born in Rysum, Ostfriesland Germany in 1827. He was a laborer there, and immigrated to the US in about 1851. He lived first in Pekin, Illinois, and worked as a drayman, which meant he was responsible for meeting passengers at the train station to haul them and their goods where they needed to go.  Family history indicates that he was often absorbed in a book when the train came in and would arrive late or not at all. “Ganz in boeken besiet” (completely lost in books) friends and family would say.  He eventually moved to Iowa and lived the last part of his life with my grandpa and his family. Grandpa said that Martin had “a whole roomful’ of books accumulated over the years.

I used to read all the time, but for some reason, perhaps due to life stress with my parents’ deaths, children’s transitions, work issues, etc., I stopped reading for pleasure about five years ago and filled my spare time with crossword puzzles.  I am trying to start reading again. Husband visits our local libraries regularly, and we have scores of books in our house. I just have to pick up something and start and apply myself. I typically like traditional murder mysteries, but I find them hard to appreciate now. I am impatient waiting for the plots to resolve. I don’t like suspense these days.  Perhaps I need to start with non-fiction and work my way back to previously unread novels.  I think it will be good self care if I do.

Daughter says she is going to join a book club when she graduates from college, and admits she has a book addiction problem.  Great Great Grandpa Martin would be pleased.

What are the pleasures and pains of reading for you? What is hard/easy for you to read? What do you want done with your books when you die?

65 thoughts on “Reading”

  1. Great topic, Renee, and that’s a nicely written intro.

    I am a self-taught lover of books. My parents never suggested that I read, and I discovered books on my own. I’ll never forget the thrill of discovering Sherlock Holmes when I was eleven, a thrill boosted by my awareness that Doyle had written a whole bunch of such books. Oh joy!

    Oddly enough, I think my parents were readers, but they never talked about it and I never saw them with a book in hand. In my teens I discovered many fascinating books in our family library: books by Richard Wright, psychology theories by Albert Maslow, essays by H L Mencken, sexy best sellers like Peyton Place, The Rubayat of Omar Kayam, short stories by Guy de Maupassant, Three Comrades by E M Remarque, the research of Kinsey, novels by Robert Ruark and others.

    Later I made the mistake of staying too long in graduate school. That crushed any joy I had in reading, for reading had become a way of acquiring things to write in “blue books” during Finals tests. When I left grad school I was unable to read a book for pleasure.

    I clawed my way back to the joy of books by reading page-turning crime fiction by Per Wahloo and Maj Stowall (the forerunners of Scandinavian crime writers Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson).

    I adopted the pattern that persists today of alternating between books that are easy, quick reads and books that have to be carefully. My current book is a Henning Mankell cop book. Up next will be the latest treasure from Anne Patchett.

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  2. Rise and Stick Your Nose in a Book Baboons!

    Learning to read was not fun for me. I had difficult experiences at school, that certainly reduced my motivation to learn anything. By second grade I was way behind. My mom started reading to me and practicing with me. Then I caught on, and it was fun forever more.

    Like Renee, the last few years have been difficult reading–stress and all that–so I relied on audiobooks for reading, which is an enjoyable substitute. Now I am back to reading actual books. Like Steve, I am starting with page-turner mysteries that engage my interest. Sue Grafton’s X is by my bed now.

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  3. My father would rather see my mother reading a book than doing housework…an unusual man I was told. We were encouraged to read and books for all ages filled the house…so I never needed a library. From early childhood my favorite books from the school library were The Boxcar Children and Annie Oakley. In HS I loved Anna Karenina. Other than the few I picked out and became absorbed in I hated reading…not knowing I was dyslexic…it was difficult for me but somehow if I occasionally found a absorbing tale I couldn’t put it down. Just didn’t find much of that during school years. I worked hard to study for my BA…wanted it and it was an area of interest so the reading ‘tho at times boring was something I strived to achieve.

    My couple of years teaching an all day K I spend hours with daughter collecting books from the city library to read to the youngsters and to have in a little comfy area of books…The Quiet Room. Daughter never had a problem reading and I encouraged library books as well as purchases.

    I don’t remember being absorbed in any reading other than research for various projects. Though my e e cummings collection was a constant companion from HS thru adulthood. My friend Cynthiafrommahtowa is a reader with a home overflowing with books. She has lent me books on many occasions with instruction to pass them on if she’d not wanted returned. I’ve never been led astray by any of her suggestions and they varied in subject many biographical or true stories which I have always loved.

    I do like a good mystery and went through many of the Grafton books. I like the silly sense of humor & characters of that sort of mystery.

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    1. i believe we cummings only non poetry published piece was called the quiet room
      if i remember it is around his being an ambulance driver in ww1

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  4. I have loved reading ever since I learned how. Actually, I liked “reading” even before I learned how. Alice in Wonderland was the first book I owned. It was in English and beautifully illustrated. Of course, I couldn’t read English, and I had no idea what the book was about, but I pored over that book, again and again, making up stories based on the illustrations.

    I became an English major in college mainly because I liked literature better than most textbooks. Unfortunately I’m a slow reader, which made it difficult to keep up with the reading assignments, especially in my junior and senior years. Thank god for Cliffs Notes! I took a course in speed reading, but really didn’t like it. To me, part of the joy of reading is savoring the language. It’s not merely a vehicle for conveying a story. I know it’s considered bad form, but I often reread a sentence just to more fully appreciate it.

    What I read is an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. I especially enjoy memoirs and biographies, and I tend to read in spurts. Often one book will lead to another, or I’ll become curious about a particular subject and I’ll explore it till I have scratched that itch. Like most everything else in my life, not very organized or purposeful, and at this point, that probably can’t be fixed.

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    1. Is it really considered bad form to reread a line? That seems ridiculous to me. Savoring an image or a turn of phrase should be one of the many pleasures of reading. I have heard of people who boast that they never reread a book; I would think they’re missing out on whole levels of the text that way. There’s a religious practice–best known in Christianity, but also practiced by Buddhists…oh yes, and some Druids as well 😉 –called “lectio divina”, in which a meditator reflects and ruminates on a small portion of text, extracting all the meaning, imagery, and symbolism she can from it before opening her mind for further insight.

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      1. Crow Girl! Good to have you back.
        I had never heard that it was bad form to reread a line either. Who made up that rule, I wonder?
        I tend to be a distractable reader. I can’t, for example, read with full comprehension within earshot of the television. So I often realize thatI have “read” a paragraph without absorbing any of it and I have to try again.
        Rereading to savor the language is something else again. Who could fault that?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I, too, am easily distracted when reading. Being within earshot of the TV doesn’t bother me as long as it’s not turned on. 🙂 Same goes for the radio. I can’t read with music in the background. Strangely enough, as a teen I could become so engrossed in a book that I was totally oblivious to everything going on around me.

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        2. Thanks much! Sad to say, I kind of forgot to check the Trail for a few months, there. I’ll try to swing by more often from now on.

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        3. The people who made up that rule are probably the same people who made up the rule “only handle each piece of paper once” – that is, the kind of people who value efficiency above all and think that real life and its problems and pleasures or the needs of others should never interfere with or take precedence over efficiency.

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        4. In AP English I taught kids to think about why they reread and how to reread such as to read it out loud. I would explain but computer is dead, too hard on iPad.

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        5. The book I had in mind when I made the reference to rereading, a book I am currently working on, is a book about string theory and its relationship to multiple dimensions and particle physics. I think my intermittant failures of concentration are not unexpected.
          That’s not to say that my concentration never wavers otherwise.

          Liked by 3 people

        6. a whole group of us… i will remember that next time something i am reading triggers a thought that sends my brain out on s gallop in one direction while my eyes dutifully follow the path like an old milk horse on their daily rounds and i realize as i turn the page and begin the top line on the following page that the first couple of words tie into nothing familiar. i then have to go back and realize where i fell off the track and it often a thing of wonder that i go back to the first para graph on the upper left and i missed the subsequent two additional pages

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        7. i had an hourvto kill 5 years ago and went into a used paper book store and just walked around grabbing stuff with no agenda and the guy at the cash register was surprised by the range
          string theory snd chaos theory were both in the bag along with 8 or 10 others that were soup to nuts
          i remembered being fascinated as i read about it but having its voice take me off on side trips as i read on

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    2. I”m like you, PJ. I was “reading” before I was able to read. We had a set of illustrated encyclopedias for kids that I was in love with. When my sister went off to kindergarten, I sat in the LR and “read” every day, memorizing some of the pictures so thoroughly I can still visualize those pictures today.

      Chris in O-town

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  5. I probably don’t need to tell you that this is a big subject for me.
    My parents were not readers. I have no mental image of my father with a book. My mother occasionally read gothic fare of the V. C. Andrews caliber. As I have said before, I was a rogue mutant in my family line. The only “library” in the house was the bookshelf in my room. I had a few books from when my dad was young: “The Boy From the Ranch”, “The Newsboy Partners”, “Gypsies of the Air”. A childless couple, friends of my parents, gave me OZ books. I had “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Little Men”. From the time I could read, I have never not been in the middle of some book.

    My reading choices have, naturally, evolved. When young I read a lot of science fiction. In my late teens a lot of back to the land and naturalist books. In my twenties I tended toward what I called “the Johns”—John Steinbeck, John Irving, John Gardner, John Nichols, John Updike and John Cheever. I went through a period where I read almost exclusively Latin American fiction and a period where most of my reading was Scottish history and historical fiction.

    I seldom read crime or detective fiction; I find them, on the whole, too formulaic and I disagree on principle with the notion that murder is the most fascinating thing that people can do. I’ve made exceptions for the Tony Hillerman and the Ellis Peters novels.

    Most of what I read these days is nonfiction. Of the two dozen or so books I’ve read so far this year, eight have been fiction and several of those were historically based. The difficulty I often have with reading fiction is that I can’t get past the awareness that what I’m reading is just some person’s invention—that it has no real substance—and that the author presumes to manipulate me in some way. Fiction requires a suspension of disbelief that I am not often able to muster.

    Of course, nonfiction also seeks to manipulate the reader, corresponding to the point of view of the author. But at least I can read several author’s accounts of the same subject and in that way form my own impression and that’s what I generally do. The last couple of decades the largest share of my reading has entailed nineteenth century subjects and probably the largest portion of my library is books from the nineteenth century or about aspects of nineteenth century America. That 500 pound gorilla of the nineteenth century, the American Civil War, is only thinly represented in my collection. As with fictional murders, I don’t believe that wars are the most interesting things that humans can do.

    I have shelves of books about 19th C theater, the utopian movement, spiritualism, Concord Mass. and the literary figures there, bohemian society in New York and San Francisco in mid-19th century, pre-Columbian architecture in America and its discovery and exploration in the nineteenth century, slavery and the abolition movement, about 20 accounts of John Brown and his raid on Harper’s Ferry and a large assortment of what I would characterize as humorous commentary on events and society written and published in mid nineteenth century.

    The question of what, ultimately, should happen to my books is one I struggle with. They represent my interests. They beckon with potential. Many of them are scarce early editions (which is not to say necessarily valuable. Value is determined not only by scarcity but also by whether anyone wants it). I would want them to go, when they go, to someone who appreciates them as I do. My interests are idiosyncratic to say the least. Collectors of my ilk are vanishing, as are the secondhand bookstores that once served them. If I am forced to downsize or disperse my books, I imagine I’ll offer or sell them selectively wherever I think they could be recognized for what they are. If I am expired and Robin has to unload them, I have a couple of book dealers I’d want to have first dibs.

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    1. It surprises me that you think of fiction as having no real substance, Bill. I find some fiction more real and more substantive than a lot of what is actually going on.

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      1. As you may have noticed, PJ, I don’t read a lot about what is going on now. My reason for that, as in the apocryphal quote attributed to Zhou Enlai, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, replied, “Too soon to tell.” I am skeptical of on-the-spot analysis.

        I try, with optimism, to engage with works of fiction but frequently find myself too aware of the underlying construction—the devices and intents of the author in producing an effect. That’s the “disbelief” I can’t always suspend. I become aware that I am not learning anything new, that the language is not notably engaging. If, in addition, the novel is not entertaining, the experience for me is unsatisfying.

        That’s not to say that I don’t read or enjoy fiction. I’m just selective.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. You are skeptical of on-the-spot analysis; I am skeptical of analysis that happens before the event. This is evident in political reporting, but is prevalent in sports reporting. It is puzzling to me to see that pre-game analysis can sometimes last almost as long as the actual sports event.

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        2. ljb: analysis is vastly cheaper and easier to film and produce than the activity that generates the interest. And often the analysis last MUCH longer than the actual event. A real NFL football game is an extremely complicated and tricky thing to photograph and present. Players get injured. Things happen that have to be rerun over and over to show them. But analysis? Easy peasey. Put five ex jocks in front of a camera and let the BS flow.

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        3. I’m not sure, Bill, that sports has a lock on this market. The recent presidential election felt very much the same to me. Before the vote there was an incredible amount of analysis and speculation. After the event there has been an incredible amount of analysis and rationalization.

          I once embraced a mantra that said sex and fishing were exactly alike because “in no other area is there so much fevered anticipation and fond reflection based on so little actual activity.”

          I was obviously wrong. Many areas of human activity are like that.

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        4. my son will go on for an eternity of the subtle interactions of sports personalities cultures strategies manipulation of future evolution by integration of successfully trade techniques vs teams or individuals where money takes over as measurment and quanatative measurment is often missing underlying factors that paint a picture of success or failure in contradiction to the analytics of a singular aspect of a player/ team

          i tell him that he should really get on the air snd be a talking head he is so knowledgeable and wide in his knowledge of the intertwined aspects of players teams cultures and it’s a riot
          I think I’ve mentioned that my first trip to the Vikings football game with him at age 7 he world all the people around us by his knowledge of where every player on each team went to college what former teams he played with and what the stats were that followed him into the game. When we would go on vacation in the car he would read sports trivia and recite stats and wonder about how roger marisa and mickey mantle both got to be top players though they had .., and he would list off the other greats in the team during their time
          sports
          i love to watch the poetry of skilled athletes bodies perform
          i love olympics for that reason weather its bobsleds or gymnastics soccer or volleyball
          the best shot putter is so different than the best swimmer or downhill ski person

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      2. i find it interesting that you think fiction tries to manipulate you in a particular direction and i go crazy with non fiction because only the side of the story the writer wants to present is there
        its like a balanced presentation is presumed and i find that seldom or at least not exclusively true
        bill o reilly writes non fiction so does fox news and documentaries what makes pbs documentarian ken burns so wonderful is the voice he chooses to speak with. what makes steven covey, william bennett or sarah palin so difficult to swallow is the place they come at you from

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        1. I haven’t read any Hillerman for quite awhile, but recently found out that his daughter Anne has written several books since his death, keeping his characters alive. Has anyone read any of her books? When the stack on the nightstand gets a bit shorter, I plan to get one and see how she’s doing. Her books in the series so far are Spider Woman’s Daughter, Rock with Wings, and Song of the Lion,

          I’d also like to take a look at a book she created with her photographer husband, called “Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn,”

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  6. Morning. This is one of my favorite topics as well. Can you learn to read before you’re born? My mother read to me from an early age, not too many books, so I learned them all by heart by the time I was three and most people thought I was reading because I knew all the words and when to turn the pages. I read pretty much across the board although not too much mystery. If I guess the murderer too soon I’m angry at all the other characters for not figuring it out and if the author doesn’t give me all the clues then I’m really angry. I can let it go enough for most fiction but I can’t let it go enough for historical fiction which often drives me to distraction. And like Bill I do read a lot of nonfiction. My books when I’m gone? I suppose it would be nice to think that they went to a free library somewhere.

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    1. I think researchers report that babies “hear” spoken language and acquire a comfort level for the language spoken by their mothers. That isn’t to say they are “readers” in the womb. It is fun to speculate that babies are eager consumers of science fiction short stories about travel to other worlds.

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  7. I tend to turn to Netflix rather than a book. Ted Talks, documentaries, and series about politicians are at least a bit informative as well as engrossing. I heard an author on NPR last week who wrote “And Then We Die”. It fascinated me, so I ordered it right away and read most of it the day it arrived. The book addressed bizarre hypothetical deaths: not having a space suit on Jupiter, digging a hole through the earth to the other side, falling into a grain silo, diving 100 miles deep in the ocean, jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. When it got to what happens when a person gets stung 5,000 times by mosquitoes, I’d had enough and tossed the book away.

    I’ve always been drawn to books about people dying, I guess. One in particular, written by a doctor, called “How We Die”, meticulously explained exactly how the leading causes of death actually occur inside our bodies in visual words. He turned cancer into a “A Central Park gang of teenagers whose sole purpose is to find more like themselves”. His very first patient death from a heart attack required cracking a young man’s chest open to massage his dying heart. He described how it felt like a warm bag of electric worms. He transformed medical terminology into metaphoric, visual language. In other words, something I could understand.

    I failed biology in 10th. grade, so language about cells dying or chromosomes don’t explain a thing to me about this vessel I inhabit.
    Given my interest in what happens to our bodies WHEN _____, my perfect job would’ve been forensic pathology or forensic psychology.

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    1. on death and dying
      i loved the title so much i read the book only to discover it was cornerstone for that particular area of life

      my books good lord i don’t. even knowvwhatscgoingvon with them when i’m alive let alone when i’m dead

      i think wherever there are chairs there ought to be books in abundance and variety nearby but in truth thats exactly what smart phones have become. i have a vision of either glasses or a brain implant whet you can have access to the worlds library and simply hit the go button and have the book movie or index pop up ala the internet to be enjoyed on a continual ongoing conscious surf

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  8. I’m feeling great about something most people would find odd. My former wife is clueless about cars and now is being forced to buy a car because her old Alfa Romeo sedan can’t pass the stiff Belgian inspection tests. I have spent about a year researching this purchase as a favor (but also because auto research is a silly hobby of mine). Just speculating, I have probably put closer to 2,000 hours than 1,000 hours on this project. We just had a long conversation to set her up to do some car testing. She is amazed at the work I’ve done and extremely grateful.

    I know how this might look to someone who doesn’t know her or me well, how strange it might seem that I would work so hard to ease her way through this purchase. She divorced me much against my wishes after 31 years together. But I couldn’t care less how our relationship looks to outsiders. At this moment I feel a glow because my work was sound and she is grateful. Things are good.

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    1. old classics from europe should be brought to america and fixed up
      jaguars alpha romeo renaults mercedes bmw rover and of courdecferrari mass erratic and anything remotely austin martin lamborghini or porsche can be fixed up here where they can’t be there
      old jags and such are so labor intense it’s expensive but can run as a sunday afternoon special foe a long time and be pure pleasure
      vintage motircycles too

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  9. At this stage in my life (that is to say, the past few decades), I find it difficult to read books that take a lot of mental effort to read. So dry, heavy, nonfiction books are out. I do read some biographies, but other than that it’s mostly fiction. I used to read a lot of children’s and what they call young adult lit, but for the past couple of years, it’s mostly adult fiction, usually historical fiction, not the bodice-ripping historical fiction, and I usually go through phases where I read about a certain era (such as World War I) or the books by a certain author (such as Jacqueline Winspear). I also have very little patience for things that don’t keep my attention for one reason or another. I’ve been known to stop reading a book after 5 or 10 pages, although I usually try to give it at least 20. I have a nice collection of “real” books that is pared down from what I had several years ago but most of my reading is e-books that I check out from the library.

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    1. Learning to quit a book that I wasn’t enjoying was one of the most freeing revelations in my life. I’ve actually dumped a book on page 3!

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      1. I’ve done so in the first paragraph. That doesn’t happen too often. The advantage of mainly reading library e-books is the ease with which I can get them. Because it’s so easy to get them, I check out many that sound interesting/good/fun from the description, but end up being not interesting/good/fun (to me) or I’m just not in the mood for them or their style is totally different than I imagined from the description. It’s easy to hit the Return button and be done with them.

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      2. Eat, Pray, Love, was one of the few books that I had to abandon within the first twenty pages. Too self-indulgent, no redeeming qualities. Yet, it was a huge bestseller; must have appealed to lots of people.

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  10. My eyes are slowly improving. Can now read easily on Kindle. Struggle with books in artificial light and my hands hurt from holding a book very long. Kin.de I can read one handed and switch between hands. Fall back to read travel narratives mostly. Been reading some literature by women writers, the greats and second tiered writers. Fiction I mean.

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  11. Sorry so late on the trail today – been busy sorting, tossing, donating, packing, and moving an astonishing amount of stuff that Mom crammed into her small apartment.
    I have been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. I don’t have any recollection of been read to by either parent so am not sure where I picked up the reading bug. As a child, I would read by the hallway light after we were supposed to be going to sleep. I read the entire World Book Encyclopedia while still in late elementary school. Dad got Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, which I enthusiastically read – not sure if Dad ever read any of them. When my National Geographic arrives, I generally read it from cover to cover in one or two sittings. My book collection over the years got ridiculously big – finally donated a bunch of them when there was no more room. And since retirement 8 years ago, I have checked out an average of three to four books a month from the library. As to genre, I have pretty eclectic taste – fiction, nonfiction, Pulitzer prize winners, fantasy, murder mystery, history. The one genre I have never enjoyed is poetry (don’t hate me!). I am rarely without anything to read – and feel lost without a book in hand. I am definitely a “real” book lover – no e-readers for me. There is something about the feel and smell of a paper book that appeals to me on a deep level. Now what was the original question? When I die I hope my books will go to someone (perhaps one of my nieces, who is also an avid reader) who will appreciate them, or will be donated to a library (if they still exist).

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    1. One book that I have been chewing my way through for months, actually close to a year at this point, is Infinite Jest. It’s a tome whose weight has me reassessing my antipathy for an e-reader. I love Foster’s writing style, but all of those tiny print footnotes are killing me. Yet something keeps drawing me back into this work. Can’t put my finger on what the allure is, but it’s definitely there. I’ll let you know if I ever finish.

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      1. One of the big advantages of an e-reader is the ability to carry several “books” (dozens, hundreds even) in a small, lightweight format. While I love my ereader, there are certain books that I prefer to read in the paper version and I can understand how some people would prefer paper over electronic. And, of course, not all books are available in ebook format.

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  12. I cannot comprehend NOT reading. Bee doing it since I was 4 and don’t intend to stop anytime soon. On pace to read 80+ books this year, as I did last, plus daily newspaper, endless internet reading, and editing my own writing (gotta read it to make sure it works). It’s almost important as breathing.

    Chris

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  13. This article is so true!! I recently went through depression, and I stopped reading. After a few days , my friend recomended a beautiful book, it was historical non fiction, and i fell in love with reading again. So all it takes is one good book

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  14. Hopefully some of my books are sentimental to my family. Others hopefully donated to appropriate places like schools or the library! Or even an avid reader!
    Collecting all the kids books right now. Hopefully raising a reader!

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