Monday, April 07, 2008

Anna Quindlen: A Kindred Spirit

Not everyone understands my obsession with books and reading, so it's nice when I discover kindred spirits. After reading Anna Quindlen's essay (I hesitate to call this slim volume a "book") How Reading Changed My Life, I know I've "met" one of these like-minded folks.

I'm going to go ahead and admit it right now - Quindlen doesn't say anything new about books and reading. Her words are not mind-blowing or even especially unique. I'm not even sure her observations warrant the dramatic title she gave them. Still, I enjoyed reminiscing with her as she described her lifelong love affair with the written word. It began for her like it did for many of us - as a child. Quindlen describes a big club chair that sat in the living room of her childhood home; she spent lots of time "sprawled in it, reading with my skinny, scabby legs slung over one of its arms" (5). Despite her mother's efforts to push Anna outdoors, she says, "The best part of me was always at home, within some book that had been laid flat on the table to mark my place, its imaginary people waiting for me to return and bring them to life" (5).

In subsequent chapters, Quindlen writes about the history of books, the banning of books, and the future of "real" books in our computer-dominated age. I despise reading books on the computer, so I appreciated this observation:

A laptop computer is a wondrous thing; it is inconceivable to me
now that I ever did without one ... But a computer is no substitute for a
book. No one wants to take a computer to bed at the end of a long day, to
read a chapter or two before dropping off to sleep ... No one wants to pass
Heidi on disk down to their daughter on the occasion of her eighth birthday
... (63-64)

No book on reading would be complete without a discussion of the various ways readers get lost in books. Quindlen describes how books saved her sanity after endless days of "disarray, of overturned glasses of milk, of toys on the floor, of hours from sunrise to sunset that were horribly busy but filled with what, at the end of the day, seemed like absolutely nothing at all" (31). She concludes that reading provides the same escape now that it did when she was a kid. It allows her to "escape from a crowded house into an imaginary room of [my] own" (31).

One thing I found really interesting is that although Quindlen finds reading lists "arbitrary and capricious" (71), she includes 11 at the end of How Reading Changed My Life. Their titles range from "10 Mystery Novels I'd Most Like to Find in a Summer Rental" to "10 Books for a Girl Who Is Full of Beans (Or Ought to Be)" to "10 of the Books My Exceptionally Well Read Friend Ben Says He's Taken the Most From." The lists include old favorites as well as titles of which I've never heard.

Even though the information in Anna Quindlen's essay won't move any mountains, it provides an engaging way to pass an hour or so. Readers of all ages will recognize themselves, especially in the young Anna, who lies lost in her reading while her friends play outside, oblivious to the adventures waiting between the pages of a book. Anyone who loves books will find themselves here, in Anna's.

Grade: B

(Book Image from Powell's Books)

4 comments:

  1. My favourite part of this 'book' was the reading lists! :) I think I copied those out, and then promptly bookmooched it away.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm so glad you liked this book too! Anna Quindlen is right on the money with her crisp and quiet prose. I enjoy the way she can turn a phrase. She is one of my favorite essayists. I thought it was interesting to hear her quoted in conference this weekend!!! I turned back to my book journal and found a few quotes that I remember being impressed with when I first read this in 2004 -
    "There is something in the American character that is even secretly hostile to the act of aimless reading, a certain hale and heartiness that is suspicious of reading as anything more than a tool for advancement." p. 9

    "While we pay lip service to the virtues of reading, the truth is that there is still in our culture something that suspects those who read too much, whatever reading too much means, of being lazy, aimless dreamers, people who need to grow up and come outside to where real life is, who think themselves superior in their separateness."

    I also did write down the book lists and have tried a few gems that I had never heard of. It was like blogging before blogging was popular!

    Have you ever tried these books on reading or books?

    Shelf Life: Ten Original Short Stories to Benefit Proliteracy Stories by the Book (compiled by Gary Paulsen)

    The Mother-Daughter Book Club; How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came together to talk, laugh and learn through their love of reading by Shirleen Dodson (I used it for great titles when I worked in a bookstore and when my daughter and I read together.)

    100 Books for Girls to Grow On (I got some great books from this one!)

    The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life: How to get more books in your life and more life from your books by Steve Leveen (An awesome little book that kept me pondering.)

    Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama and other page-turning adventures from a year in a bookstore by Suzanne Strempek Shea (charming, funny and easy to read. It was a good read to remind me of my bookstore days)

    Of course I have adored Jim Trelease's work for over 25 years and Nancy Pearl is my book hero; gotta love someone who calls it Book Lust!

    Maybe you have other titles on this too. I would love to hear of some your recommends! Your blog and reviews are awesome!!
    Gaye

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eva - I was surprised by how many of the books on her list I hadn't read. I have such a love/hate relationship with book lists. The hate part is because I'm always reminded of how many books I HAVEN'T read.

    Gaye - Okay, I must not have been listening very well to Conference. Who quoted Anna Quindlen?

    I liked the quotes you mentioned, too. The second one is especially funny and true.

    I've read a couple of books by this author. I went to the library the other day and checked out a couple more of her novels. I'm excited to read them. I also noticed she has several non-fiction books, so I will have to look at them as well.

    The others you mentioned sound interesting. I haven't read any of them, except Nancy Pearl's, of course. Thanks for the recommendations!

    ReplyDelete
  4. She was quoted in Elder Ballard's talk (on women and motherhood).

    Anna Quindlen used to (or may still, we don't get it any more) write an opinion piece for Newsweek, which I usually enjoyed. I've never read any of her books though. I'll have to look into it.

    ReplyDelete

Comments make me feel special, so go crazy! Just keep it clean and civil. Feel free to speak your mind (I always do), but be aware that I will delete any offensive comments.

P.S.: Don't panic if your comment doesn't show up right away. I have to approve each one before it posts to prevent spam. It's annoying, but it works!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin