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Bookcases

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

When you visit a friend’s house, do you find time to browse their bookcases? Does it shock you if they don’t have one?

Bookcases are the first things I look for and look at. The book collection (or the lack of it) gives a peek about someone’s personality and reveals a person’s life. I can always associate books with trips I made. No that I would judge my friends on it, but I cannot help to be shocked when there isn’t a tiny shelf for travel books and cook books.

It’s hard to escape the theory that there is an exhibitionist side to our bookcase obsession. It’s about showing off how much you have read, or plan to read, or pretend to have read. You are subtly suggesting that you are the sort of person who keeps Finnegans Wake handy, for example, just in case you ever fancy dipping in for a quick, albeit incomprehensible, catch-up.

Being a bibliophile and a fanatic reader myself, I like to take a peek at what other bibliophiles have in their shelves. It’s the same thing as any collection. If you’re into shoes, you’d get giddy looking at other people’s shoe collection. With a book collection, there’s always something surprising to see. You never know what’s tucked in the shelves.

Summertime

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Do your reading habits change in the summer?

Summer is the time of pool time and road trips with friends. That means I have to select lighter books. Although I’m a spontaneous reader, I’m mindful that I don’t bring James Joyce or Toni Morrison with me to the poolside in Palm Springs because they are too tough-going for distraction. My summer books are ones that can survive distraction. Imagine trying to read a chapter or a passage, dive into the pool, soak up the sun, come back to read some more, grab a nosh from the BBQ grill, take a nap on the float, and come back to try to read where I left off. Ulysses won’t do, nor would To the Lighthouse or Beloved. The straight-forward and tight plot of The Jungle might suit the occasion but I might have to skip the BBQ. Good mysteries always and non-fiction might be the perfect choices.

Anticipation

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Do you still get excited about new books as you did when you were little? In general? New books in particular, like from a favorite author? Or do you look at all new, unread books with the same level of anticipation?

Any book or author I haven’t read is new to me. I don’t distinguish between books hot off the press and ones that were written in the last century. I simply get excited about books—the smell of ink and the tactile pleasure. When I was little, I anticipated Sunday not because my favorite cartoon would be on TV, but the prospect of a visit to the bookstore after dim sum. I was looking forward to browsing and hopefully buying a book that I would read in my spare time.

“Format”

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

All other things being equal, what is your favorite format for reading? Hardcover? Paperback? New book? Old book? Leather-bound first edition? E-book?

My preference is trade paperback that I can bring with me everywhere I go without being too heavy in my bag. Hardback is too bulky to hold while I read and I am not a huge fan of the “artisan” hardback that has decked cut. New and old don’t make much of a difference but I do like the old book in good condition and free of markings.

E-books. I’ve said enough about them. I don’t dislike e-books but I prefer paper. Tactile pleasure. Browsing the bookstore. Imagine no more bookstore browsing when every book is under your fingertip?

Despite the advent of the eBook, there’s something about the paper format that appeals to us; paperback or hardback, old or new, the physicality of a book can be as much a part of its appeal as the words contained within. Who doesn’t love opening a new book and inhaling that fresh printed smell? Or better yet, an old book with its slightly musty, woody scent? Printed books, physical as they are, are as much about form as function, and we often take as much pleasure in collecting and displaying them as in reading them.

Censorship

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

How do you feel about explicit detail in your reading? Whether language, sex, violence, situations and so on … does it bother you? Faze you at all? Or do you just read everything without it bothering you?

Explicit details in reading don’t ruffle me as long as the language, graphically vivid or violent, is deemed appropriate of the period or situation to render the book authentic. Honestly, in this self-righteous society, many works are misinterpreted or misguidedly banned because of the limitations and short-sightedness of a few. This censorship business seems to have intensify over the years since I graduated from high school. How is it that as we are poised to become more liberal we, on the other hand, I was shocked and infuriated by the fact that To Kill A Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath are targets of censorship in school libraries and curriculum because they contain violence, religious viewpoints, sexually explicit language or drug references considered unsuitable for students.

It all comes down to making choices. I can understand schools want certain books not to be included in the curriculum. But removing books completely from library shelf is a violation of constitutional rights. Banning literature from libraries is obscene. Any parent can decide to opt their child out of a specific assignment if there are concerns about sexually explicit material; but no single parent should be deciding what books are allowed to be read in school and what books aren’t.

So I digress. Imagine what the books of Maxine Hong-Kingston, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison would read like if those derogatory terms are to be banned or omitted. None of the violence, sexual allusion, and derogatory language bothers me. It actually helps find the world and its cultures into perspective. Literature stems from life experience and renders life in focus. Literature is supposed to intrigue if not to offend us. The genre for those delicate people who cannot even afford to be offended by a view different from theirs should peruse fairy tales.

“Extreme”

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone to get something to read? (Think extremes as well as miles—wrangling a ride from a stranger to a distant bookstore just to get the newest book from a favorite author?) If your absolute favorite author (living or dead) was coming out with a brand new book tomorrow, how far would you go, what would you do to get a copy?

I’m not desperate to get my hands on new books but I will go very far to find the books I really want to read. After The Painted Veil, I decided to peruse everything written by W. Somerset Maugham that I can find, but I had no luck in this country. Most bookstores carry the volumes of short stories. L.P. Hartley was another overlooked author whose works have not been released for decades. Publishers would spit out one rub after another George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm but totally neglected his essays and other non-fiction works. All these are available, in UK paperback editions, in bookstores in Asia, for roughly the same price. I’m not a fan of online book shopping, let alone giving my money to Amazon. I enjoy the tactile pleasure of book browsing in the bookstores. Also by shopping at the local indies the money will go back to the community. So even with the convenience of ebooks at my finger tip, even with online sales, I would bring my shopping list with me when I fly to Asia.

If I really need to hunt down a new book, a good place to try is the local library book store if I can find proofs. The Strand in New York City has a basement full of proofs and ARCs. The consignment stores are also great treasure haunts for out-of-print books. Costco has selected new titles at discounted prices.

Time

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

If you had all the time in the world, what would you read?

I won’t change my reading habit and would continue to peruse the books in the TBR pile. When I have all the leisure to read on vacation, I don’t usually read all day. If I have all the time at this moment, I would research and read some of the authors similar to Borges: Julio Cortázar, Samuel Beckett, Octavio Paz, and Franz Kafka. If I have all the time (and money), I’ll hop on the plane to visit some of my favorite bookstores where I can browse and buy books not available back home.

Plot- or Character-Driven

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Which is more important when you read — the actual story or the characters? I’ve read books with great plots, but two-dimensional characters, and I’ve read multi-layered characters stuck in clunky stories, and I’m sure you have, too. So which would you rather focus on, if you couldn’t have both?

Some of my most memorable reads are character-driven. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro focuses on the personal journey of the butler Stevens, who looks back in retrospection, with regret, that he feel likes one of history’s victims, as he comes to realize that he may have taken the wrong path. Stoner by John Williams is also propelled by a dense characterization of the title character. John Williams, in depicting Stoner, whose indifference becomes a way of living among the dark forces and sadness that have swept over the society, seems to be saying that most of us will live quiet, unremarkable lives that can probably be summarized in a few sentences and that contribute nothing to humanity’s accomplishments. The Great Gatsby encompasses both—with quick actions that drive the story forward but also superb bantering/dialogue that reveals the depth of characters. If I cannot have both, I’ll pick a character-driven because character-driven stories emphasizes on characterization, inner conflict, and relationships—elements that can set the wheel of the plot.

“Favorite”

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Do you have a favorite book? What do you say when people ask you? (This question always flummoxes me because how can you pick just one, so I’m eager to hear what you folks have to say.)
And, has your favorite book changed over the years??

My all-time favorite book is, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions here, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It actually popped up this morning over coffee when someone asked me the same question. The book is a combination of history, fairy tale, folklore, and political polemic. Bulgakov was trained as a physician, but he found his forte as a playwright and novelist. In his time he was banned for works lambasting Joseph Stalin. The banned The Master and Margarita was not published until after his death, which achieved posthumous fame. Today this novel is widely read in Russia and Bulgakov is revered. The book is Bulgakov’s embittered and sarcastic response (and indictment) to his era’s denial of imagination and its wish to strip the world of divine qualities. Not God, but His anti-being quickly springs to defense, in the disguise of a magician. One hot spring, devil arrives in Moscow, accompanied by a retinue that includes a beautiful naked witch and a talking black cat with a fondness for chess and vodka. That the city is so rooted in its atheist conviction renders it an easy target of the visitors’ hypnotic trickery and blatant criminality.

My other favorites include The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, a quietly beautiful novel about the human condition: A desire to exceed one’s limitations. Not only is Stevens loyal to a fault, his former employer, Lord Darlington, however decent, honest, and well-meaning he was, was also playing a dangerous game by allowing himself to be used as a pawn in Hitler’s schemes. Another one is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. It’s really a love story, not in the sense that it explores romantic dialogues and actions, but in the sense that it explores private lives. In the guise of friendship, sustained through births, outdoor adventures, job losses, war, moving, unrealized dreams, and thwarted ambition, Stegner offers, with an uncanny sensitivity, a glimpse of the physical and emotional intimacy in marriage that go largely unspoken out of respect and loyalty.

“Mark-Down”

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I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the host for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Here is this week’s prompt:

Does the price of a book affect your decision about buying it? Do you wait for cheaper editions of books you want?

I have to stay on budget for the huge number of books I buy. So quick answer is yes. I don’t buy hardbacks unless it’s a book that I desperately want to read hot off the press. Trade paperback is my preferred edition, which is usually not available until at least 9 months after the hardback release. Publishers usually cut the price of remaining hardback stock when trade paperback is released. That’s a good time to buy discounted hardbacks. That said, I still prefer paperback. Prices of older editions also plunge when new editions become available. The truth is—who doesn’t like deal, even if it’s a slight mark-off? My local bookstores have a discount section where you can find great bargains for books that publishers would buy back. Some books are heavily discounted. It’s not uncommon that hardcovers originally priced at $20+ would be marked down to $5-$6 within a few months. The bottom line is what you pay is what you get. Heavily discounted books could be a tell-tale sign of poor writing or dreadful story. Classics—the very timelessness that makes them so—seem to do better in fighting depreciation. Except for the titles that publishers repeatedly, regularly, roll out with new rubs and editions (and therefore the older editions are marked down), classics usually don’t have discount. Paper copy of Ulysses is now $18, the annotated edition $21, Magic Mountain $17—and I almost have never seen any mark-down for new copies.