Sunday, April 19, 2015

On Being Too Widely Read: Adventures in Being a Professional Reader, Part I

Can one really be too widely read? Of course people who don’t read think so, but evidently book professionals think so, too.

I’ve spent a lifetime devouring books. I’ve traveled throughout this world and many others through the magical portals of print. I love to meander wherever those print paths lead me, between the black and white of slashes and space to the boundaries of the mind’s grey matter.

Yes, I believe that reading makes one smarter, abler to navigate through life with leaps and bounds of both perception and faith. I am not only a voracious reader, but also an omnivore—there’s no one genre that holds my sole interest. I can’t even be a serial monogamist—I read too quickly, and am dipping with delight between the covers of the next bright flower that takes my fancy.   

I never really paid attention to the way I read until I was asked to take over a local book club and then joined Netgalley. With the book club, I pick the titles. I’m limited to books supplied by the library, so that’s one challenge—but other than choosing to honor the Omnivorous name of the club by featuring both fiction and nonfiction, it didn’t change my reading pattern much. Here’s the way I like to read, branching out and onward, like a Book Tree, a winding journey. It starts with my first-ever book club pick (I’d been carrying the book around for six years, not ready to read it, but unable to let it go—can you relate?). I can see many other book trees in my life, but this is one such journey.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer, led to My Life in France, by Julia Child, then to The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, which led to
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (actually read it in high school, but there’s a new edition). Then nostalgia of teen years led to reading About Town: The New Yorker And The World It Made, by Ben Yagoda, and Genet: A Biography of Janet Flanner, by Brenda Wineapple. This led to The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough. Then what should appear but The Bones of Paris, by Laurie R. King. And then I always wanted to read Shakespeare and Company, by Sylvia Beach. A few months later, Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard—and now the sequel, Picnic in Provence. And more.
(Find the list with blurbs here:

One thing leads to another, and suddenly you know a lot of stuff about Paris, two World Wars, New York, art, poetry, food…you get the picture. It’s fun to read for discovery!

In a sense, I’ve always been a professional reader—I’ve never left the profession of student behind. I was a children’s librarian, and Poet-in Residence, where “Miss M” was born. And I’m a writer; kinda hafta read.  And I was a bookseller—don’t think I’ve left that behind either, at least I sure hope you’re buying some of these books I recommend and supporting your local bookstores, if you’re lucky enough to have them.  I truly love pointing people towards books that will take them on journeys of discovery—or just delight them—I’m not a genre snob (just a grammar snob). Booksellers are evangelists of the words.

But there are two kinds of librarians, I’ve found over the years. There are those that think the books are for sharing and growing and leading to more reading and more books, and those who think that books need protecting in little boxes of buildings and genres, cataloguing not correlating their discoveries.

Book people, book sites, let’s do the good work. Let there be Curators of Quirk, Editors-at-Large, Columnists of the Heartlands, Foreign Correspondents, diverse perspectives of literature and lives. Make new and bigger boxes, if you need boxes.

I am proud to say I read SFF and mysteries and thrillers and science and romance and poetry and religion and spiritual and gardening and cooking and memoirs and history. And cereal boxes.

I always remembered E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a story of overnighting in the New York Public Library (it’s really the Met), because what could be better than to have free reign amongst the halls of Heaven?  

Read on.

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