Do you find that you're reading less nowadays? I know I don't read like I once did; I do less serious reading than I used to. I read constantly but it's bits and pieces: technical documentation; web-based articles and news items, mostly related to my work; headlines on WSJ.com and CNNSI.com; and, more often, blogs like Lileks.com and Meryl.net. I tend to make a distinction between these sorts of short-attention items vs. books (aka treeware) that are made to be read from cover-to-cover.
Don't misunderstand. My reading habits are no less rewarding now, but I must confess to a sense of inadequacy when someone asks about the last book I read. (OK, it was "Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide," by Eric Meyer...great plot but not much character development.) I can't name any of the books on the NYT Bestseller lists although now that I've followed my own link I can't say that I feel like I'm missing much: "Who Moved My Cheese" is still on the non-fiction list (how many years has it been?), and I see that John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas" is back on the fiction list (perhaps it's the Director's Cut).
So, in order to salvage a bit of my reading reputation I offer for your consideration brief looks at a few "real books" that I've read and which might have escaped your attention. I was going to write some witty and insightful mini-reviews, until I realized that I have absolutely no credentials for doing so, other than having read the books. So, let's just make a list, shall we, and let you decide how to proceed.
- "Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" - Anne Lamott - Recommended for writers, both aspiring and accomplished...as well as for readers, both aspiring and accomplished. In short, everyone needs this book.
- "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith" - also by Anne Lamott - Read it, if only to find out which three words comprise the totality of the two most sincerely faith-affirming prayers I've ever read.
[If you're too cheap to buy one of her books, read some of her "Word By Word" columns in the Salon.com archive. Then, go buy her books.]
- "Doomsday Book" - Connie Willis - Almost exactly like "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," only without the humor and zany antics. You know you're reading good SF when you no longer recognize the world you inhabit while reading it.
- "Cryptonomicon" - Neal Stephenson - OK...maybe a micro-mini review of this one: take the movie "A Beautiful Mind," alter it [significantly] so that it's actually interesting AND intellectually stimulating (and get rid of R. Crowe while you're at it) and you just begin to scratch the surface of this amazing book. If you are fascinated by cryptology (and who isn't?), this is a must-read. If you couldn't care less about cryptology (you know who you are...but more importantly, so do we), read it for Stephenson's description of a man eating corn flakes.
I'll close today with the headline from Mr. Stephenson's elegantly designed website, which pretty much sums up my life...and perhaps yours, as well:
"We live in an age of continuous partial attention."
--Ms. Linda Stone, researcher and VP at Microsoft, as quoted in the New York Times, Jan. 30, 2001
(Note: As much as I would like to provide a link to this article - as well as confirming its existence - I find that the NYT website is now freezing my browser AND computer every time I access it. Go figure.)