Thursday, September 25, 2008

Adventures in Reading

What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight… whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?
And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?
I am a pretty adventurous reader, so I am often surprised by a book that I know is outside my "comfort zone." Sometimes the surprise is good, and sometimes, well, shutting it with a shudder is the mildest reaction I've had to some.
One of the books that I was certain I'd hate but which I read anyway, only because it was given to me by the Dean of the English Dept. at a college I worked at part-time when I was a senior in high school, turned out to be the very best kind of surprise. The professor told me that The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe was his favorite novel of all time, but I was certain I wouldn't like it. It was written in the early 1900s, was a partly fictional biography of some doctor who built a bird sanctuary at San Michele overlooking the Bay of Naples, and, on top of that, was really long. Uh-huh. I was so not happy to have to read that huge tome, but I did it out of respect for the prof and fell in love! It changed the way I thought about literary novels, and it engendered a lifelong love of Italy.
Okay, that was then (about a half century ago) and this is now, and recently someone on LT recommended Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. I only picked it up because of that and because this year I had made a pledge to myself to read more literary fiction, both contemporary and classic. I fell in love with Hotel du Lac, too, and definitely see why it won the Booker Prize! That was probably one of the latest examples of a good surprise.
The other kind of book? I tend to put them out of my mind straightaway when I finish them ~ if I even bother to finish them at all. Like Einstein, I don't believe in cluttering my mind with unnecessary information!

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