Booking Through Thursday: Year’s Favorites

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

What were your favorite books of the year? (Books that were new to you in 2009, if not necessarily published this year.)

Well, I was going to do a Top 10, but it turns out I’ve read 13 books that I really liked this year, so here is my Top 13 list — though not in the order read, or in any other order.

  1. Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer
  2. Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison
  3. The English Major by Jim Harrison
  4. Janeology by Karen Harrington
  5. Evacuation Plan by Joe O’Connell
  6. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
  7. Bigfoot Dreams by Francine Prose
  8. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  9. Write Away by Elizabeth George
  10. WLT: A Radio Romance by Garrison Keillor
  11. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
  12. Revision by David Michael Kaplan
  13. Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
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Booking Through Thursday: History or Historical Fiction

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Given the choice, which do you prefer? Real history? Or historical fiction? (Assume, for the purposes of this discussion that they are equally well-written and engaging.)

What an appropriate question, given that I’m reading Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, a book that’s part biography, part history, part political analysis, and a fully riveting read. Primarily about Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals strong safety, who joined the Army after September 11, and who was later killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, the book also explores the history of conflict in Afghanistan from just before the Soviet invasion to the formation of Al Quaeda to the rise of the Taliban to the moment Tillman was killed. It also explores the events that led up to September 11, as well as the rescue of Jessica Lynch, in which Tillman played a small part, during the early days of the Iraq War.

Now to the question at hand: Overall I’d have to say I prefer history over historical novels, especially when I’m intrigued about a particular historical subject, and especially when the person writing the history is an engaging writer — historian Paul Johnson comes to mind. I’m not particularly fond of history textbooks, even when I was majoring in history in college. When I was majoring in history, I preferred reading novels set in the historical periods I was studying, usually these were classic novels  like For Whom the Bell Tolls or Frankenstein— besides being an early science fiction novel, it is a great glimpse into the Romantic mind — or firsthand documents like the letters of Abelard and Heloise.

And I’ve loved contemporary novels such as Atonement, technically a historical novel, since it’s primarily set in Britain during the war. But, like most historical novels, Atonement uses its historical setting — the movingly vivid retreat from Dunkirk in this instance — as a catalyst to move the story forward more than serving to throw a light on a historic moment or figure.

But, again, if I want to know about an event or idea or even people (I love biographies that put important figures in their historic context) I prefer history.

Booking Through Thursday: Go Speed Reader, Go!

Here’s this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

What do you think of speed-reading? Is it a good way to get through a lot of books, or does the speed-reader miss depth and nuance? Do you speed-read? Is some material better suited to speed-reading than others?

I don’t know enough about the techniques of speed reading to make a yay or nay statement about the various methods of speed reading and whether or not they’re reliable. But, that always reliable source Wikipedia lists skimming as one method of speed reading, and I do use skimming quite often, especially online.

I suspect if you’re out simply for information or cramming for an exam that requires you to spew back the information you’ve absorbed, then speed reading is perfect. Even then, if you are like me, using methods such as skimming has its flaws: When I skim something, I tend to forget what I’ve read fairly quickly. Which is OK if you’re reading something online and can bookmark the Web page or set up a new tab so you can refer back to it.

I also use skimming when trying to find a passage or section in a book or article I’ve already read.

I tend to read fairly quickly, which has its drawbacks. I’ve forgotten characters or major plot points, and I do miss subtle nuances of language. Of course if I really like a book, I’ll reread it at least once, and usually more often. Those second and third readings unveil the nuances: I catch things like extended metaphors, subtle character changes,  structural effects, etc.

I wish I had the time and patience to do a close reading of everything I read like those in Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. I’ve done that type of reading, and sometimes I’ll do that type of reading with a particular passage or paragraph or section of a book.

Prose points out such subtleties as constant references to eyes and light and dark in Oedipus Rex that prepare readers for Oedipus’ literal blinding, subtleties you catch only if you slow down your reading.

My own experience of reading quickly leads me to think that speed readers do miss the nuances of writing.

Clackity, Clackity: A New Typewriter for Cormac

I’m writing this post at my apartment complex’s computer/business room because my PC appears to either be dead or dying or something. After fiddling with the thing for two hours this morning, it’s still not running.

Earlier, I went online in the computer room to see if I might be able to troubleshoot the problem. To no avail. Jokingly out of frustration I posted a grouse on my Facebook page about considering going back to my typewriter, a machine that’s almost 50 years old.

A friend of mine responded to my grouse by sending me a link to a story that Cormac McCarthy is putting up his typewriter for auction. The typewriter’s just now worn out after 50 years of producing novels, short stories and screenplays. No viruses have plagued McCarthy. No hard disk has crashed.

Anyway, here’s a link to the article:

No Country for Old Typewriters

Now, where can I find a spool of typewriter ribbon?

Editor’s Note:

This was supposed to post yesterday. But the machine decided not to do it. At least it saved it.

Booking Through Thursday: What I Talk About When I Talk About Booking Through Thursday

Here’s this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

What’s your favorite part of Booking Through Thursday? Why do you participate (or not)?

When I found Booking Through Thursday, I thought it would give me at least one weekly blog topic, and thought it might serve as a good warm up to writing.

And for the most part it has. Most of the time the questions are challenging and thoughtful. Some are fun and playful.

I also like reading people’s answers, and finding other book blogs, readers and writers.

It try to participate each week, especially on challenging topics such as this or this, but sometimes it slips my mind or I get busy or things like last week’s Thanksgiving holiday gorge on football get in the way.