Sunday, June 12, 2016

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.”

The title of this blog is a quote from Austin Phelps, 
an American minister and an educator living in the 19th century.

If you have been a long time reader of this blog, you will not be surprised to read that I LOVE BOOKS.  After all, I did major in English literature in college, and in graduate school. And I spent the first eight years of my working career teaching literature (at my college alma mater) and the last eight years of my working career teaching writing (and the occasional literature course) at the local community college.

So, when I think about summer, I think about reading. Truth be told, when I think about spring, autumn and winter, I think about reading.

You should see the nightstand next to my side of the bed. Yup--a book holder with 10 or so book "waiting to be read."  And on top of those book is my Kindle reader with a whole bunch more books to be read.

So when someone asks me for a recommendation of a good book that I read (recently), it is really difficult for me to choose.

Understand--it is not that my selections are always faultless.  I have occasionally picked a book that "looked good" only to learn that it was a complete dud. A waste of my time and money. I resent such an encounter with a book. And I really resent the promoting of such a book which a certain online website where one can buy books did--and that's why I bought the awful book that I resented. No, I won't tell you the name of the book.

But, but, but...this blog is supposed to be about a really good book that I have read. (Can you tell that I am is so hard to choose?) I am going to cheat--and pick TWO: one fiction, one non-fiction. Both are from several years ago. If you haven't read them, do. If you have, re-read them.

Three years ago, a book discussion group I was in selected the novel The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. From the title, you can figure out something about the book. The structure of the novel is focused on three main characters--and the cellist. As the chapters alternate among these characters, you experience the horror of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.  Soon, you too become caught up in the recurring question--will the cellist of Sarajevo live another day to play Albinoni's Adagio on the exact spot where a deadly mortar fell.

Non-fiction? I try to read interspersing books--fiction/non-fiction. Repeat.

The same book discussion group introduced me to the wonderful book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. Through the story of a Hmong child with epileptic seizures, the book brings into stark contrast two approaches to health and healing. Unexpectedly, both approaches are correct but they are on a collision course. Contrast the Hmong culture with the mindset of American clinical health care--and you get the basic sense of  the content of the book. What you can't get unless you read it is the agonizing direction the story takes you.

I was so taken with this book that for months afterwards I would tell ANY health care provider I met that they really "had" to read this book. I finally stopped when one of these providers said--"I already have." 

So, those are my choices. And as Austin Phelps advised--wear the old coat and buy the new book. The book will wear much longer and better than the coat!


Harriet said...

Two of my favorites as well, especially "Spirit," which I've also recommended as essential reading for healthcare professionals.

KGMom said...

Based on the books you write about, Harriet, I know you read more than I do. So I am not surprised you have read both of these.
When I am asked for "favorite" books--it is sheer torture. I have so many. Almost any Barbara Kingsolver, or Geraldine Brooks, or Louise Erdrich, or Marilyn Robinson, or Hilary Mantel.
As for non-fiction I still think about The Coming Plague. Even though it is date, the information about the possibility of pandemics stays with me.

Jayne said...

I want to be that passionate about reading again, my friend. I love how your enthusiasm jumps off the page of this post! I, too, feel cheated when I invest time in a book that leaves me feeling empty at the end. I had a recommendation from a friend of a book (and I will name it, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern) and felt nothing but confusion and bewilderment when I was done. Bleh. I find myself, for that reason, reading mostly non-fiction these days, and much about spirituality. I'll have to check both of these titles out. Thanks for sharing. XO

Unknown said...

I'm always looking for a great read, esp during the summer! I love my Kindle - our local library has recently updated their collection and so they have many good books from which to choose. Nice blog!

Anvilcloud said...

In the grand scheme of things, there is a slight chance that I will remember this long enough to ever get it and read it. Even if I make a paper note to myself, it will likely get trashed without me getting a round to it. But I have jotted it down. Really.

Ginnie said...

I have not read either of these but you've spiked my interest. I guess I'm kind of a reverse snob when it comes to choosing books. I refuse to read books that are touted as being written by a "New York Times best selling author".

NCmountainwoman said...

I have read those and could recommend them as well. I really hate it when a book is a dud, especially a much-anticipated one. The most recent and quite painful one was Elizabeth Strout's "My Name is Lucy Barton." I was expecting so much after "Olive Kitteridge" and "Burgess Boys" and I was very disappointed. So much so that I plan to read it again to see if it was as bad as I remembered.

I have at least three books in process most of the time. A non-fiction, a page-turner, and a quiet one (think "Gilead") for bedtime. Right now those three are: "Going Clear," "End of Watch," and a debut novel, "The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend." More reading time is the single best perk of retirement.

BTW: I do miss your sidebar of the "to be read" books.

Ruth said...

"Spirit" has just been added to my reading list. Thanks.