Thursday, June 5, 2008

I'm greedy, that's my problem...

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Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?


My reading stems from an innate curiosity about people and states of mind and, if I'm honest, from a greed for knowledge. I am greedy to possess knowledge. Sometimes it turns out that I'm more interested in the possession than in the acquisition - if bookstores were smorgasboards I would say that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. I think 'oh, I really do want to know everything there is about amateur telescope use,' but really when it comes to getting through the book, I'd rather read a novel. If anything has changed it is perhaps my knowledge of myself. I know my taste better. I kid myself less. I still love fiction best and still flip back and forth between older works of fiction (more classic literature) and contemporary novels. I'm still a fan of English and Irish writers, and particularly contemporary women's voices. I still love biographies - though I don't read them as greedily as I used to. I still loathe self-help, I don't really like how-to either unless I really, really want to know (and even then I'm impatient), and I have a hard time getting through a book about history or politics no matter how interested in them I originally think I am. Sheila has gotten me to read some Robert Kaplan and some Ryszard Kapuscinski but it is always slower going for me than fiction. Any changes that have evolved in my reading have evolved because my work has changed dramatically. As a theater and opera director and acting teacher I used to read more biographies of composers, conductors, other artists. I read pretty much every acting technique book that came out if it had even the remotest connection to the way I worked. A lot of my reading was driven by research - even the fiction I read was the collecting process for a project's setting, a character's psychology, or I was thinking of adapting the entire work itself to a piece of theater. But when I worked in that field I did read books about science, particularly medicine, psychology, and the brain-mind-body connection. As an acting teacher that's what I was working with. In fact, those interests lead me to my interest in neuroscience, of which I'm now a student. I read more books about the brain now, and I read much more 'hard' science. There are also more books available for the reading public now about cognition in general and neuroscience in particular. It has become a niche. I am continually surprised that I'm actually interested in something that's popular when it's popular.

I used to read poetry more often, but now I think I read it better. My tastes in it have also broadened. I used to read a lot of books about attending medical school, medical practice, the history of medicine, It was the road not taken. Now that I'm living my fantasy of working in a scientific/clinical field I don't dream by reading about it any more. Now I'm collecting information from the science books and dreaming more about artistic work. The two-volume biography of Orson Welles by Simon Callow is on my soon-to-be-read list, thank you Sheila. I love biographies although I used to read them more often when I was acting. But I still go home to fiction. I still like a balance of the light and the heavy, familiar settings and exotic ones, recent works and older classic works. Virginia Woolf, Ethan Canin, Tim Winton, May Sarton, Richard Powers, Chiam Potok, J. D. Salinger, Pat Barker, Herman Hesse, Iris Murdoch, Dostoevsky are some of my old favorites. Hilary Mantel, David Leavitt, Alice Munro, Michael Chabon, Shirley Jackson, William Trevor are some of my newer ones. I'm still greedy to hold experiences in my grubby little brain - more! more! I don't see that changing any time soon.


16 comments:

The Holistic Knitter said...

Great answer. I too tend to veer towards classical fiction and women writers. Like you my eyes are often bigger than my capcity to store and read books... I want to read everything!

Sheila O'Malley said...

I went through a couple of years where I only read non-fiction. It was post 9/11 - I couldn't focus on anything fictional. I was almost nervous to start reading novels again - but I started in around 2004 ... and now I'm back!! I love it! I've read SO many good books recently - and I'm branching out, too - taking recommendations from book sites (I've read a couple of great books recommended by Elegant Variations - I read Christine Falls - SOOOO GOOD - dying to read the sequel, too - and also Joshua Ferris' And Then We Came To The End- which was one of the best books I read this year.) I also started the Master & Commander series last year, and I am now like a crack addict. I adore them.

There are far too many books in the world for me to ever read and it makes me nervous sometimes! I haven't read Les Miserables yet - I haven't read War & Peace yet ... will I ever read Remembrance of Things Past? Will I have enough time??

Ted said...

S - I always love seeing what you gravitate toward. You have recommended so many good books to me, and while we definitely have overlap our tastes take some different directions which means you lead me to books I wouldn't otherwise choose!

writer2b said...

Ethan Canin! You're the first I've come across who's mentioned him. I LOVE 'The Emporer of the Air.' I have 'Blue River' but it didn't make such an impression on me.

Eva said...

I'm greedy too! And lately, I've been reading non-fiction as quickly as fiction, which is just crazy. :)

I just got a book about reading poetry, which I hope will make me less afraid of that entire genre. And I've been getting more into the bio/autobio/letters/memoir area lately, which is interesting. So far, I think I prefer letters and biographies. Memoirs are fun, but I think of them as some hybrid child of fiction and non-fiction. Whereas biographies and letters fulfill more of my voyeuristic needs. lol

Ted said...

HL - I know what you mean!

writer 2b - Try "For Kings and Planets" it is a much more satisfying novel. And his novellas in The Palace Thief are pretty terrific too.

Eva - A lot of memoirs are like that - sure. But what about Victor Klemperer's? What amazing books? Or Lillian Hellman's? Or May Sarton's?

Sheila O'Malley said...

I love reading letters and diaries ... and sometimes I prefer them to the "real" work produced by the artist. Like I'm not wacky about Katherine Mansfield's short stories, I find them rather boring - but her diary?? To quote my 13 year old self: OH MY GOD!!!!!!!

Sheila O'Malley said...

Oh, and just have to say: my dad adores Ethan Canin and makes it a point to buy a first edition of every one of his novels. He has them on a special shelf in his study.

Ted said...

S - I'm a nut for creators' diaries, letters, and memoirs too! I didn't know your dad liked Ethan Canin too. I also make a point of buying his books in hardcover as soon as they come out! I have a special place reserved for doctor/authors - he's next to Chekhov.

gautami tripathy said...

I am trying read more non-fiction. I like travelogues, autobiographies, memoirs. I stay away from self-help books.

Booking through trends

SmallWorld Reads said...

Great post. I love the pairing of "greedy" with "reading." So fitting.

Ted said...

SW - I wasn't yet familiar with your blog and enjoyed my visit. Thanks for your's.

Eva said...

I haven't read any of those, but I'll definitely look into them. :) Thanks for the suggestions!

Sheila O'Malley said...

Selfishly, I cannot WAIT for you to read Simon Callow's Orson Welles biography - and there's still one more volume yet to be published!! But seriously, no pressure or anything, I just can't wait to talk about it with you.

John's comments said...

Interesting blog, and my wife combines psychology with acting as a trained counsellor she is about to n=move into art therapy. The topic got me thinking and I did reflective account. What I read over the years has changed but what engages me has remained pretty constant

Ted said...

John - Interesting the way arts and sciences can overlap. I find hard to not see the overlap of psychology and acting - they make use many similar ideas, although with different immediate goals in mind. A good friend did the same with dance and psychotherapy, as she works with many hearing-impaired patients their talk-therapy was already in the body, so it was a natural transition!