Sunday, January 18, 2009

No, not the ones with green six-eyed space monsters in them.

In case you were wondering, I am in fact aware of the irony that the thing I picked to challenge myself and shake up my life is something I can do sitting at my kitchen table in my pajamas. Baby steps, right?
I'm not doing terribly well on my New Year's resolution to read through the three piles of books on my bedside table before adding any new ones. I'm not sure why I have the compulsion to go on borrowing books from the library and buying books and stealing books off my friends' bookshelves (I usually ask first) when at any given time I can easily find thirty to fifty books I haven't read in my immediate vicinity. Do I think I might get snowed in for six months at some point? Am I subconsciously planning to build a big book fort in my bedroom? Is it just good old-fashioned mental illness?

It's especially bad if I'm depressed. Sometimes I look up and realize I'm spending more time scouring newspaper book reviews and doing library searches for books than actually reading books. It's like I feel like I need to build a bulwark of books between myself and the world, so no matter how bad things get, I can escape in several different directions (the past, the future, places where you always have the perfect scathing comeback and nobody ever goes to the bathroom....).

I usually go to bed and start out reading something respectable and enriching, something I can admit to people, nay, brag to people, that I've read. For dessert, I have something with less snob value, often still well written, sometimes a little trashy. Unless I don't feel like putting down the 'good' book, which usually doesn't work out so well, because that means I read it until I should go to sleep, then I read the trashy one until long after I should go to sleep. I find it fairly annoying that if I try to read a book at three-thirty in the afternoon on a week-day, I fall asleep, but if I start reading a book at nine o'clock at night, I can still be wide-awake and reading at three a.m.

My good books are non-fiction or 'literary' fiction. For second-course reading I like mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, and the occasional horror (although I'm laying off on that right at the moment because a couple of days ago I got out of the shower and as I walked out of the bathroom to the bedroom I looked back at the mirror to see if it was fog-free enough for me to turn off the fan, and accidentally saw my ass. That's enough horror for the next couple of months at least). I used to read mysteries less discriminately, but now I don't buy or borrow them unless I'm reasonably sure they'll be well-written, either because I've read the author before or it's been recommended by a friend, or I've read a good review from a reputable source (although this is of course not completely reliable, and I'm aware that I tend to read Publisher's Weekly like some people read the Bible -- as if it's received wisdom from an objective source, rather than just written by some dude with his own agenda).

Fantasy and science fiction is the genre with the widest range -- the dreck is lamentably, appallingly, gall-bladder-wrenchingly, excrementally bad. But the good stuff is the kind of book that reminds me of when you're young and just starting to read novels when you become less aware that you're engaged in the act of reading, and you read a book that performs magic on you, that cracks your mind wide open and makes you realize that there are a million worlds and we don't have to stay stuck in this one, a book that makes you weightless. I felt that young and that full of wonder again when I read The Gift by Patrick O'Leary, and The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder, and All the Bells on Earth by James P. Blaylock, and Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll. I've only ever written three fan letters (emails) to authors, and the first two were to fantasy writers and the third was to a fantasy writer about his first mystery, which pretty much saved my sanity, if not my life, when I was pregnant with Eve and two-year-old Angus broke his femur and was in a body cast for five and a half weeks.

Do I sound defensive? I do feel a bit like it's a dirty little habit. I have been known to compose a pile of mysteries and fantasies at the library and then stick a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being on top as a thin disguise (at least I did before I could do self check-out -- LOVE self checkout). Consider this my coming out of the sf and f closet.

About the three piles of books on the outside edge of my bedside table -- my husband makes fun of me for them all the time. So a few months back, we were trying to flip the mattress because my back was sore. Matt was up on the box spring and then jumped down to the floor and the mattress was on its end sticking up towards the ceiling .... and then he lost hold of it, and it came crashing down towards the glass of water on my bedside table and we both yelled... and the edge of it came gently to rest on my huge pile of books, with the glass of water untouched five inches under it.

Who's laughing now, Chuckle Boy?

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