Picking and Choosing

Books recommended, books read, and books still waiting

With The Polysyllabic Spree (whose title, I'm sorry to say, is an in-joke that bugs the fuck out of me), the sweet agony was caused by the author's voice. Whatever you think of his novels, Hornby achieves a tone here that can best be described by himself (in a passage about another writer): "It's humane, and humorous at the right moments, and he has a penchant for quirky cultural references." He's clearly smart and cultured, but not intimidating in the slightest; getting his take on all sorts of topics -- how to read with a "pram in the hall," what it feels like to realize you haven't read all the books you think you have, why we should remember that it's possible to read a book badly -- is like chatting with a friend.

Nelson's So Many Books, subtitled "A Year of Passionate Reading," first engaged me for the idea behind it, and then, once I got into it, for the characters that infuse it. What "readaholic" (Nelson's word) hasn't dreamed of a project like hers? Yet soon after starting Books I realized that I didn't really care what she read, but rather why, and how, and when, and what her choices said about her and her family and her friends and her life. Nelson isn't as good a writer as Hornby -- she's pedestrian at times, sentimental at others -- but I'd talk books with her anytime.

Zaid's slim paperback carries the tag line "Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance"; its fascinating research and thoughtful insights kept me going even when the author got a little highfalutin. Here's one tasty tidbit: "The human race publishes a book every thirty seconds." And another: "Simply reading a list of [those books already written] (author and title) would take some fifteen years." I felt smarter after reading his analysis of the literary condition.

Now, though, it's time to move on to another dish. It might be Fight Club's next choice, William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart, culled from a long, detailed review researched and read aloud by my friend Rachel. It could be My Life in Orange, the memoir by Tim Guest that I snagged for its title. Or maybe Samina Ali's Madras on Rainy Days, because I have a thing for fiction set in India. Whatever it is, I'll try to keep my expectations low, to savor what there is to savor, and, in the end, to let go.

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