How to Read
If you’re a fan of this blog (or of the internet, or of understanding how that new gadget is supposed to be put together, or of…well, almost anything), chances are you know how to read — or at least, mostly. Of course there’s the basics, front to back, left to right, top to bottom (although this is not the case in Japan/China and Arabic). But exactly how good at at rdaenig are you? Are you just sikmnig these lines, thinking that you know eaxtcly what I’m saying? Did you catch the misspellings? What about the extra word a couple sentences ago?
Okay, so that’s technically not fair; I’m exploiting the fact that people’s brains work a certain way. But perhaps that is how close you should always read. Certain authors take lots of pride in tricking you — you have to pay close attention to what they’re saying, or you may take a wrong turn and die at the bottom of page 67. And then you have to flip back to the previous page and make a different decision so that you aren’t eaten by dinosaurs. But I digress.
Tip #1: Read closely and carefully. Some people (myself included) think that speeding through a book is the best way. And sure, you get to the end faster, but do you remember it all? It’s always fun to go back and re-read books, but if you’re consistently coming to passages and going, “I don’t remember this happening,” it’s time to slow your roll. Don’t get ahead of yourself — just enjoy the read.
Tip #2: Bring a pen. Don’t be afraid to write in your books! Unless it belongs to the library—or to a friend who would drive pencils into your head as you sleep if you did—it’s totally okay to mark it all up. Dog-ear or underline your favorite passages. It’s always cool when re-reading to come across little quips and thoughts from the past. Tastes and opinions change — were you thinking the same thing about Lydia Bennet this time around as you were the last? Are Bella Swan’s “My life is meaningless without Edward!” inner thoughts any less annoying? Does the Molly Bloom stream-of-consciousness chapter make any more sense the second (or even the bazillionth) time around? Circle words you don’t know and look them up, then write the definition down in the book. Squeeze every narrative drop out of what you read — it will keep you warm at night and give you something to talk about at parties.
What to Read
Whatever you like (duh). There are millions (and millions) of books in the world — chances are if you’re into it, there’s a book on it. And don’t let people rag on you if you enjoy a topic that isn’t necessarily “normal.” A 45 year-old woman reading Nancy Drew? Go girl! A 25 year-old dude reading Jane Austen? More power to ya! What about David Buss’ library of evolutionary psychology materials? If it’s your thing, Cindy Meston’s Why Women Have Sex should have just as proud a place on your shelf as does the Bible.
Tip: If you pick up a book, or have one recommended to you, and you’re not totally into it by page 50, drop it like a hot potato. As I said before, there are millions of books out there, and if you’re serious about this, honey, you don’t have the time to read books you hate. I once suffered through Barry Bonds’ biography (on the recommendation of a friend), and once was enough.
Tell your friend that you gave it the college try, but you’ve got too many other books calling to you to continue. If they’re nice, they’ll understand. If they don’t, they’re obviously not Book People, and you should drop all pretense of liking them.
Where to Get Books
Ooooh, the options! It used to be pretty darn tricky to get ahold of books. But the internet age has made those difficulties rather unimportant — there are now a plethora of options that one can use to get their book fix.
Option #1: Bookstore – I prefer Barnes and Noble for my shopping needs (member discounts = awesome), but there are tons of other places, including discount and secondhand bookstores.
Option #2: Online – The major booksellers have corresponding websites where one can search for books that the stores themselves may not have in stock (and Amazon itself is a fully online bookseller). Member discounts can be used on items purchased online, and (total nerd perk) the books can be delivered directly to a home or work address. This becomes an even bigger perk during the holidays, when the idea of going anywhere near a store has the same effect as shock therapy. Most online stores have “wish lists,” where a person can place books that he/she would like to have. Anyone can log on and see the wish list, and even purchase books without the creator of the list knowing. Convenient and sneaky? Genius!
As a slight aside to the “Online” option are websites such as PaperBackSwap, a free website and service that helps its members trade books (although the respective members must pay shipping fees).
And although it is not my favorite idea, the concept of the “ebook” is intriguing. But I’m saving that particular gem up for its own special edition of Bookzilla.
Option #3: Public Library – Probably the cheapest way. For a one-time (or at least minimal) fee, you can check out whatever the library has. This option does, of course, have downsides. You’re limited to whatever they have, there aren’t multiple copies of each book, and although you don’t write in library books (because you’re a nice person), sometimes other people have not been so kind. Scribbles, mystery stains, and torn or missing pages can really put a damper on one’s reading. Also, more libraries these days are requiring proof of residence before issuing a card. So if you’re a college student away from home, and you need/want to use the public library, prepare to pay a fee for a temporary card, as well as be severely limited in how many books you can check out at once. But if you’re settled somewhere that has a decent library, it’s definitely your cheapest—and possibly your best—option.
Option #4: Beg, Borrow, and Steal – Okay, not so much on the stealing part, but thumbs up for the begging and borrowing. Friends and co-workers can be excellent sources from which to glean reading material, but many of the downsides of library borrowing can be extended to these people. Borrowing from people you see on a daily basis also has some special caveats (see next section).
Treating your own books well is one thing, but I believe that treating others’ books well is more important. Remember those tips about dog-earing and jotting down notes in the margins? Forget it. If you’re borrowing a book, invest in a good, solid bookmark, and remember to use it. Book People can be really picky about the way they handle and treat their books, and f-ing with their system is a huge no-no. When in doubt, ask, and woe betide you if you return the tome with a broken spine.
How to Treat Books
Like you’d treat a best friend or lover: sometimes they’re sweet and adorable, and sometimes they’re heavy and obnoxious and full of big words you don’t understand and ideas you despise.
We don’t throw our friends, we don’t stack them in precarious heaps on the floor where people will trod on or trip over them, and for the love of God, WE DO NOT BURN OUR FRIENDS WHEN WE DISAGREE WITH THEIR IDEAS. The German playwright Heinrich Heine wrote, “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings” (Almansor, 1821). If you disagree with a book, by all means protest. Just please, please don’t make the mistake of playing Anthony Comstock and mess it up for the rest of us.
So that was the basics of books. I know, I know, lots of reading to do, but I couldn’t just throw you guys into shark-infested waters with no life raft of book knowledge. Next week, maybe a review?
Where do you stand on the idea of writing in (your own!) books? Is it sacred, or sacrilege?