Saturday, August 16, 2014

More on reading

"It’s a common and easy enough distinction, this separation of books into those we read because we want to and those we read because we have to, and it serves as a useful marketing trope for publishers, especially when they are trying to get readers to take this book rather than that one to the beach. But it’s a flawed and pernicious division. This linking of pleasure and guilt is intended as an enticement, not as an admonition: reading for guilty pleasure is like letting one’s diet slide for a day—naughty but relatively harmless. The distinction partakes of a debased cultural Puritanism, which insists that the only fun to be had with a book is the frivolous kind, or that it’s necessarily a pleasure to read something accessible and easy. Associating pleasure and guilt in this way presumes an anterior, scolding authority—one which insists that reading must be work."
         But of course, most of the time it isn't. This is from a fine New Yorker piece by Rebecca Mead, who wrote a splendid book about reading Middlemarch. You can find it at
         I was thinking about this distinction at the book fair today. There were scores of copies of recent mass market best sellers, from Philippa Gregory to Stephen King, but there were also plenty of copies of the "classics" of every era - books that people have so consistently responded to that they have embedded themselves in the life of readers in English everywhere.

Never too many books

DCM Bookfair 2014

Today was the first day of the annual DCM Bookfair. It's been a milestone in my life for as long as I've lived in Wellington. Like everything else, it's been affected by change. For years, Harvey and I went together, then I went alone. After he died I started volunteering there, mainly because I wanted to help DCM - but also because I thought working at the fair would prevent me from buying too many books.
       There is, of course, no such thing. I've yet to see a reality show about people who can barely move in their house because of their hoards of books. I reckon books make great wall insulation, too...
       Anyway, this year I had my son home for a holiday from his teaching job in China.  His timing was perfect, because for years I've had to hunt out books for him and then post them to him at exorbitant cost, since NZ Post has stubbornly refused to recognise the vital importance of having a special rate for books. This year he could choose his own, and carry them back himself. Meanwhile I would do my morning stint, followed by a brief bout of shopping.
        I was very good. While I was channelling my inner librarian - floor-walking, answering questions ("Where is the chicklit?"), tidying up the tables, and (my favourite thing) relocating misplaced titles - I saw more than a few books I wanted, but I didn't collect any until I was free. Of course, by then some of the ones I'd spotted had gone, but that was the luck of the game - I just wasn't meant to have those particular books.  After all, there were plenty of others to choose from.
         I reckon you could get an entire lifetime's education, as well as vast amounts of pleasure, from what turns up at the fair. Of course I saw quite a few that Harvey would have liked, but never mind, he certainly never went short of books. Here's what I ended up with.