This is the last post in the Bookshelf. I’ve decided to merge all my blogs into one, so going forward, my thoughts on the books I’m reading will be at www.katycooper.com. I’m still planning on writing about reading every day.
Just not here.
I don’t generally read scary books, but I have occasionally read things that completely creeped me out. As it happens, two of my most vivid memories involve novels I read while alone in Salem, MA.
The first one was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot — it scared me so much I had to stop reading it. I was living in a residential hotel with my sister and her best friend, and the two of them had gone to visit a friend at college. So there I was, freaking out about vampires in Maine while in the middle of the city of Salem.
The second was a reading of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, one of the most deeply creepy books I’ve ever read, especially when you consider that nothing overt happens. I was once again all alone, only this time in an apartment in a building that was close to 100 years old, the kind of building that pops and creaks as it settles for the millionth time. Very scary when you’re essentially reading about a house that’s insane…
It’s been years and years since I read either of those books, but I can still remember how scared I was.
The plan yesterday was to (finally) start reading Sherry Thomas’s Delicious. I adored Private Arrangements and made a point of getting Delicious at the at the RWA booksigning in San Francisco in July. (It’s entirely normal for me to buy books that I don’t read for months or even years.)
But plans are what you make to keep yourself busy until you finally act. Which means I planned one thing and did another. A quote on Newsweek.com sent me to the library’s online catalog to see if Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought was on the shelf; a happy answer there sent me to the library itself; poking in the stacks gave me the book I wanted as well as a few I hadn’t planned on.
One of the surprises was Pinker’s The Language Instinct, which is what I am now reading with a great deal of delight. It’s crammed with ideas and information, offered up in lively, witty, zestful prose that is a pure pleasure to read. For me, it’s pages and pages of messing about with the architecture of language itself, playing with my favorite toy in a way that doesn’t smother the fun while also staying true to the science. If you love language, if you love grammar (actual grammar, not formal grammar, which is “the etiquette of written prose”; the grammar “that can build an unlimited set of sentences out of a finite list of words”; both quotes from The Language Instinct), you will love Pinsky. You will love him because he shares your love.
Or maybe that’s just why I love him.
As I expected, I finished Black Ship last night. It was very satisfying, but I’d expected that, too.
Talking about it, though, lands me square on the horns of a dilemma, one I haven’t resolved: how to describe something light in a way that doesn’t make it sounds stupid. The appeal of the Dalrymple mysteries and other types of light reading is that they don’t make particular kinds of demands of me, whether those demands are intellectual or emotional. In the case of the Dalrymple mysteries, I know nothing horrible is going to happen — there’ll be a murder, but it won’t be presented in a disturbing way, and the thread of violence isn’t going to hang over the narrative.
That description strikes me as damning with faint praise, which is not my intention. My life makes demands on me that use up a lot of mental and emotional energy, and sometimes my reading is all about escaping those demands so I can recharge my batteries. Fiction that lets me do that is welcome and beloved.
So maybe you’ll join me in a moment of gratitude for the pleasure to be found in smart, light fiction, even if I haven’t figured out how to describe it in a way that praises it properly.
Last night, I read half of the latest Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Black Ship, and I’m itching to read the other half. I have stuff to do tonight, including work out, but the temptation to blow everything off in order to read is almost overwhelming. In fact, I’m cutting this short tonight to get back to reading all tht more quickly.
A girl has to do what a girl has to do.
What is it about gift certificates that makes me absolutely itchy to spend them? My sisters-in-law gave me a Borders gift card on Friday night, and I’ve already spent it. Saturday I ordered The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip from Borders.com; this afternoon I ran across the street to the brick-and-mortar Borders and spent the end of it on Meljean Brooks’s Demon Bound.
I finished two books this weekend: Things the Grandchildren Should Know, a memoir by Mark Oliver Everett of the band EELS; and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Both were books I reserved because I’d read good reviews and/or they had good word-of-mouth. Both were worth the time spent reading, and I recommend both.
Here’s one way I find things to read…
Today, I read a review on Boston.com of Sarah Vowell’s new book, The Wordy Shipmates. The product description on Amazon.com sums it up better than I can (especially since I haven’t read it yet):
The Wordy Shipmates is New York Times–bestselling author Sarah Vowell’s exploration of the Puritans and their journey to America to become the people of John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”—a shining example, a “city that cannot be hid.”
Since I completely loved her Assassination Vacation (which is a pretty good title, since the book is about a vacation she spent visiting places associated with the first three presidential assassinations), it was a no-brainer for me to put this on the list of Books To Read.
Which is miles long, but I don’t think it’s a list that can ever be too long.