A Gentle Weekend Meme (Pass It On!)

I’ve never done one of these before, but I saw this little Q&A going around at a couple of other blogs (e.g.) and thought it was a nice way to find out about what people are reading. So here are my answers; maybe some of you will post yours, either here in the comments or over at your own blogohomes.

What was the last book you bought?

The (New) Quilting by Machine. Crafty Christmas projects loom, and I recently had to give back the (old) version of this to its real owner. At $4.99, who could resist?

Update: Make that Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk. Note to me: All children’s birthday parties should be held just across the business park from a large bookstore, so that parents have an excuse to browse for two hours before picking their kids up again. On the other hand, I see that if I had bought it online, I could have saved $5.

Name a book you have read MORE than once.

Since I reread books for a living, I’ll recast that question and name some books I consider my ‘comfort’ books–ones I reread often because I like where they take me. Actually, even that could be a long list, but here are some perennial favourites: Anne Tyler, Ladder of Years; Alison Lurie, Foreign Affairs; Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night; Lynn Sharon Schwartz, Disturbances in the Field.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

I’m not sure about the “fundamentally” part here, but every time I read Middlemarch it challenges me to approach my life differently–better, I’d even say.

How do you choose a book? e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

Recommendations play the largest part for me now, as I’ve become a bit cynical about reviews.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction. But I like fiction that has the ring of truth (whether historical, personal, psychological, moral, or other), and I also have a long interest in the instability of the distinction between fiction and non-fiction.

What’s more important in a novel – beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

Yes, exactly.

Most loved/memorable character?

Dorothy Sayers’s Harriet Vane, and Dorothy Dunnett’s Philippa Somerville.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Defining “nightstand” a bit broadly to include the table by my favourite reading chair, the extra little shelf on my desk at home where I stash my overflow “TBR” pile, and my literal nightstand–and ignoring books that are there only because I have to read them for work–I see Claire Messud, The Emperor’s Children; Frank McCourt, Teacher Man; W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz; Penelope Lively, Perfect Happiness; Ahdaf Soueif, Mezzaterra; and Vikram Seth, Two Lives.

What was the last book you read?

I finished Richard Price’s Clockers last night. I didn’t actually like it that much. I wonder if it would have captured my imagination more if I hadn’t watched all five seasons of The Wire so recently.

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?

There are a couple of books I’ve started recently and not persevered with, but usually I don’t like to think of it as “giving up”: sometimes it’s just not the right time to read a particular book, so it goes back on the shelf to ripen. Recent examples include When We Were Orphans and A Suitable Boy: I look forward to reading all of both of them eventually. I did give up on a few of the books that I tried out for my mystery class, including Helen Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss and both Henning Mankell books I started. I can think of at least one book I sort of regretted reading through to the end: Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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I recently took the widely recommended step of securing a “domain of my own” and I am gradually consolidating my online content there, including Novel Readings. I’m posting at both locations for now, but I have disabled comments at this location. You can leave comments on my new site; you may want to update your RSS feeds to follow me from there.

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