So, what are you reading these days?

It’s only the third day of NaBloPoMo and I am already falling back on a meme, but! In my defense! It is a good meme and one I saw a few days ago and thought I should do.  I saw this over at Will Type for Food, a blog far better than mine (I swear, TimT is always posting something good and never runs out of clever or creative ideas — a month of posting every day would pose him no challenge at all).

Here goes:

1. What was the last book you bought?

I just bought a pile of them from Amazon:

Consider the Lobster – David Foster Wallace
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – David Foster Wallace
Club Dead – Charlaine Harris
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

2. Name a book you have read more than once.

I go through phases for a few years when I’ll read the same book or series of books ever year.  When I was a kid, it was The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  For a few years in college it was John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany or Anaïs Nin’s A Spy in the House of Love.  Recently, I’ve been reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History over again every year.  These books are like comfort food.  Academically, there are probably hundreds that I read over and over again for research and teaching purposes, but I’ll leave those out for now.

3. Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life?

When I read Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight for the first time, it fundamentally changed the way I read, the way I analyze texts, the way I view language itself, and the way I want to write.  That novel taught me how to be a reader.  It also led directly to the philosophical research I undertook during my dissertation, which not only helped me lay out who I would be as a scholar, but also affected the way I see art, spirituality, and the world in general. So, um, yes.

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

I generally only read books I already know about — books by authors I already read or books mentioned in scholarly studies.  I also take seriously the recommendations of a few friends who share my taste in books.  It’s very rare that I just choose a book off the shelf in a bookstore without some prior knowledge of it. Lately, however, I seem also to be choosing books based on the likelihood that they contain steamy vampire sex (see question 1), so it’s not like my choices are always that sophisticated.

5. Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction, most definitely.  I was recently reading something somewhere where the writer said she preferred non-fiction to fiction based on a “preference for thoughts over feelings,” which, I have to say, is complete bullshit.  The notion that fiction is the domain of feelings (aka emotions aka women’s business) is one that has persisted since the advent of the novel as a genre and that argument is as tired as ever.  Those who think there’s no thought (aka intellect aka logic aka truth aka men’s business) to be had in fiction clearly haven’t read any of it.

(Wow, I think I have strong feelings on this matter.)

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

Writing, narrative structure, and form always seduce me.  So much so that I almost want to say the plot is immaterial. Almost.

7. Most loved/memorable character:

Professor Timofey Pnin of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin. I identify with him (perhaps a little too much), and I also see so many sad and weird and wonderful things about him that I’m not sure if I want to identify with him or not. All I know is that I really, really want him and that dog to live happily ever after — more than I want a happy ending for any other character I can think of.

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

All of the above-listed recent purchases from question 1, plus:

Hatchet Jobs – Dale Peck
Oblivion – David Foster Wallace
Breaking Dawn – Stephenie Meyer
Anagrams – Lorrie Moore
No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
The Secret History – Donna Tartt

9. What was the last book that you read?

I am always reading several books at once due to the combination of reading for research, reading for class, and reading for pleasure.  The last one I read in each of those categories, respectively, was: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami; Lost in the Funhouse, by John Barth; Dead in Dallas, by Charlaine Harris.

10. Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?

Usually if I don’t finish a book it’s because I somehow just haven’t gotten around to finishing it yet.  I rarely intend to stop reading.  That being said, the last book I intentionally gave up on was Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar.  Good gravy, I could not stand that book.  Tedious, self-indulgent, and utterly without pleasure.

Books I am “still reading,” because I simply haven’t finished them yet (even though I have EVERY intention of doing so, I ASSURE YOU) include, but are not limited to:

Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Infinite Jest* – David Foster Wallace
Ada – Vladimir Nabokov

[*By the way, did I lend you that? No really, I went looking for it and it is nowhere, NOWHERE to be found.]

If you have a blog, consider yourself invited to participate — you can post the answers there and then leave a comment here linking back to it so I can go check it out.  If you don’t have a blog, feel free to answer any and all questions here. What are you reading? What’s good? What’s bad?  I must know.


  1. Gosh, thanks for all the nice things you just said about Ye Olde Blogge and it’s humble proprietor, yours truly. I’m pleased to have been an inspiration for Zemblanian bloggers, in however small a way.


  2. On my nightstand is “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova – a vampire tale.

    I also have in progress:

    “The Adventure of English” by Melvyn Bragg
    “The Meaning of Everything” by Simon Winchester
    “De l’eau dans le vin?” a French Novel by Remoissenet
    “Diffusions, Markov Processes and Martingales” by Rogers & Williams

    I recently finished Moby-Dick and Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.


  3. TimT – You’re welcome! Now, no pressure or anything.

    John – Aha! I am not alone in my vampire fixation. I have never read Moby Dick myself, but I do definitely love Umberto Eco. I even love just saying his name. Umberrrrto Eco!


  4. The vampire book I got in France – it was in a pile of English language books and, after glancing at a few passages, seemed well-written.

    Eco is wonderful – the only book I don’t like by him is “Baudolino”. I had trouble getting through it (but did finish it) as a result of boredom. I just couldn’t get into the story.

    Moby-Dick has got to be one of, if not, my all-time favourite books.


  5. The only thing I’ve read in months that isn’t the internet is Smith’s Organic Chemistry Second Edition. It’s cool…but not exactly light bedtime reading.


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