When you get out of your comfort zone...

friedagAugust 19, 2014

I don't know about you, but I've dug myself some luxurious reading ruts. And I have a hard time getting out of them. Do you?

A friend recently told me that she reads everything. Everything as long as it's fiction, that is! I politely (I think) said that fiction must be her comfort zone. But she doesn't think so, because, as she says, fiction is infinitely variable. Well, I couldn't argue that she's wrong, so I just bit my tongue and refrained from saying nonfiction is even more variable.

This friend had noticed that I don't read much of anything that she finds interesting, and vice versa. We're both great readers, just readers of different things, and unfortunately we can't really 'talk books' together very much. To remedy this, she agreed to read something that I say I love, even if it's nonfiction, and I'm going to read a contemporary -- NOT historical, NOT a mystery -- novel that she recommends. We haven't made our picks yet, but this ought to be quite an exercise. I'll let you know how it goes.

What I would like to know from you all is what books have greatly pleased or maybe just surprised you that are entirely out of your comfort zone, something you would never have read if someone hadn't prodded you?

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Frieda, I do like that phrase "luxurious reading ruts" ... that would describe quite a bit of the brain candy I read through the spring and summer this year, and once in that lovely rut, it is certainly hard to change course and try something else.

Coming to RP and having a local book group has helped keep me from vanishing into one type of book and never coming back. I've definitely been pushed out of my comfort zone with books we've read as a group here -- Cloud Atlas, which I loved for its clever construction, comes immediately to mind, also Dawn by Octavia Butler, which I didn't love, but was certainly a tour de force, and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner which I remember as a bit difficult but rich -- I would never have picked any of these on my own.

The book group I'm in leans heavily to contemporary, best-seller fiction, which I'm not always drawn to. Some of the choices have veered into that Oprah-Approved-Dysfunctional-Family genre that I loathe, so with some of the choices I'm not only out of my comfort zone but also a bit resentful that I have to read it at all. However, there have been some books that I've really liked when I expected to hate them and only opened the book because I had to get it read before the meeting.

Some of books I would never have picked up but turned out to be terrific include: The Tender Bar by JR Moehringer (a wonderful memoir that I expected to be painfully dark, but wasn't), Wild by Cheryl Strayed (I was sure it was another Eat, Pray, Love which I found incredibly whiny and self-involved -- Wild was uncomfortable and stunning and way out of my comfort range, but in a good way), and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, which would never have even been on my radar if not for my book group (it's brilliant, IMO).

Last year my kids read and loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and they insisted I read it. I had no desire whatsoever to read a book about teenagers with cancer, but it was the most wonderful book! It fell into that "I laughed, I cried, I fell down, it changed my life" category. Way out of my comfort zone, but I'm so glad I read it.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 8:22PM
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My comfort zone tends to be historical fiction. I agree that I was certainly pushed out of it when we read "Cloud Atlas" (which I really did not like very much). I also felt quite pushed out of my comfort zone when reading any of the work of W.G. Sebald, but I felt rewarded that I got through them. Just reading a long novel, such as GWTW, pushes me quite far, because I prefer shorter works, as a rule.( "War and Peace" and "World Without End" were not written for the likes of me.)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 1:02PM
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My most "out of my comfort zone" was We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. I loathed it and will never read another book by her.

Another we discussed here was The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I had read it years ago and knew I didn't like it but reread it for the discussion. I was right the first time.

I have read books, though, through recommendations here and other places that I have liked very much and would not have read on my own. Unfortunately, none of those titles comes to mind right now. I plead too much reading rather than advancing age.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 7:17PM
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Sheri, you've had remarkably better luck reading outside your usual range than I have! I don't remember what put me off Cloud Atlas -- maybe it was the construction you referenced -- but I most likely gave up on it before I should have.

I'm afraid I would dodge the teenagers-with-cancer book entirely. I still haven't got over reading John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud in the sixties. I probably won't read The Fault in Our Stars, but you've certainly made me curious about it.

Ach, those dysfunctional family books that Oprah promoted! Did you read I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb? I swore off reading anything Oprah put her seal on because of that book.

I have been quite taken with some of the books for RP discussions, most of which I would not have read otherwise. Actually, I've forgotten most of the contents of the books, but I remember the pleasure of discussing the books better. One that is so contrary to anything that I usually like is Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler, which I read initially because I was trying to figure out why Vicki liked it so much that she adopted Sarah Canary as her user name. It's a strange book that I actually remember quite well, more vividly than some books I thought I actually liked a lot better.

Mary, W. G. Sebald has certainly been a stretch for me. That's funny about you and long books! :-)

I don't mind long books, if they're good books, but I'll never be caught reading the whole of In Search of Lost Time. I barely managed Swann's Way. But GWTW is the shortest 'long' book I've ever read.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 8:06PM
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I think it is fine for you to read non fiction, but don't judge your friend or others for what they read.

I read for pleasure and good novels give me that. I think of good books and music as therapy for the soul, when I am a little depressed with the things we face in our daily life they put me in a better mood. Fern Michaels and Debbie Mcomber are my favorite authors, they are light reading, both are about families. FM has written several books about senior women and their escapades. My favorite book is D.M.'s A Turn in the Road. Very good. She writes so well about families it makes me wonder how she is with her own. I just finished Alan Brennert's two novels about Hawaiian history, Malakai and Honolulu. Malakai was very sad, but well worth reading, ends well.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 10:15PM
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Carolyn, I disliked The Handmaid's Tale so much that I couldn't stomach a rereading of it for the discussion, so I didn't participate. I liked Atwood's Alias Grace quite a bit better -- more in my comfort zone, I suppose, it being a historical novel. Were you in on that discussion? I recall it being quite enlightening, a lot of back-and-forth and diverse opinions. The next book by Atwood that I tried to read was The Blind Assassin. Not my cuppa, but if I had read it with a group, I might've got more out of it.

Emma, my friend and I enjoy a little friendly 'judgment' of each other's reading choices. It's a way to talk about books even when we haven't read the same ones.

I'm with you, Emma: I can't think of anything better than good books and music to elevate a low mood.

I liked both Moloka'i and Honolulu. Brennert's novels are evocative. It's one of my favorite things to think about: both places as they once were, beautiful certainly but not always paradisiacal.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 1:16AM
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Emma, Moloka'i was another book group choice that I went into thinking I wouldn't like it and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. I will have to look for the other one.

Frieda, the book I hated most (book group choice) that fell outside my comfort zone was Emma Donoghue's ROOM which I still wish I could wash out of my brain. And decades ago I made the mistake of seeing the movie version of The Handmaid's Tale and will never, ever read the book -- I've been traumatized enough.

I will go on the occasional non-fiction or biography binge, but oddly enough, if I don't like or am uncomfortable with a non-fiction book I have no problem setting it aside. Somehow fiction, especially if its been recommended by friends, demands to be finished or at least given second and third chances, I don't know why.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:21AM
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This thread really hit a reading nerve with me. Ihave become concerned that so many of my choices, novels mostly, are British, and set in the first half of the twentieth century. I am not sure why, but I have to make a conscious effort to read something by an American, for example. Though I have read some quite good Canadian and European titles, my default seems to be English.

My latest two choices confirm this trend: Robert Aickman's Dark Entries and Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day. Aickman is generally considered one of the best ghost and supernatural short story writers of the 1960s and 1970s. Following his death (in 1981), his story collections mostly went out of print and have become infuriatingly hard to find. Luckily, Faber and Faber has just released some of them this summer. I avoid ghost or scary stories during the first half of the year, but they're a popular choice for the fall and winter. I have read two excellent stories from this collection so far.

But Bowen's book is a struggle. I used to think she was a Very Important writer, no doubt because she was "Bloomsbury-adjacent". But her books seem so cold now. Her heroines are always glamorous, moody women who clearly have never had to work a day in their lives. Maybe its just me, but I am finding The Heat of the Day a dull read so far.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:57AM
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Tim, my sympathies for struggling with Bowen, or any of the Bloomsbury Set, be it Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, D H Lawrence and assorted hangers-on. I find most of them tedious in the extreme and so far up themselves they can probably see the light at the other end.

Frieda, I have been checking my 'reading lists' ie a couple of old exercise books 'borrowed' from the children (not that they are kids anymore). I find that I have read very little that is out of my 'comfort zone', or maybe I started some worthy book and put it down sharpish without noting the title.
I did make a stab at Wuthering Heights at the insistence of Diana/dido but could get no further than the first few chapters, but have managed a couple of things by Dickens and one or two other 'classics' in an attempt to improve my mind . . . "Is it worth it?" I ask myself.
SF has never appealed to me though I did pick up a very cheap and grubby copy of some short stories by John Wyndham and found them more 'readable' than I would have expected, possibly because the English was of a high quality rather than the 'strange' content.
I still prefer to stick to bios and autobios, some travel stuff other than the "It was Monday and we found ourselves in Rome/Calcutta/Sydney" variety.
I can't handle brain candy possibly because the few remaining grey cells are half-way to mush already.
I too found Cloud Atlas very difficult to follow. I felt my copy was missing some important information and I couldn't get the individual chapters to meld.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 12:25PM
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I'll just cheerfully keep reading my murder mysteries and let my husband worry because I know so many ways to kill people.

Today I picked up the third of the A. D. Scott (she's female) series set in the Scottish Highlands at the library. I won't get to it for several days since I haven't finished the new Charles Todd and also found The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness as a 7-day book. It was on my request order, but I was far down the list. Hers are about the only sci fi books that I like--well, except for the Outlander time travel books.

Frieda, I haven't read Alias Grace but did read The Blind Assassin, which I didn't like either. I've given up on Atwood, lauded though she may be.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 7:10PM
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For a change, I borrowed a book written some ten years ago during the sex and shopping era. I gagged on it! Possibly because of the GFC, the world seems to have lost the will for conspicuous consumerism, or is it just me?
Possibly it is just me as Zara has just opened a shop in Western Australia and young people queued up for hours before the opening and were breathless with excitement when interviewed!
My only thought was a vague "I wonder if they stock Plus Size?"

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:29PM
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Sheriz6 - Your descriptions of enjoyable out-of-your-comfort-zone books made me want to read most of them. You should probably get a job writing the blurbs that appear on book-jacket flaps.

Earlier this week, I finished a book that was very much out of my comfort zone because it was about sports (a dreaded topic for a book, in my opinion). It was The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. It's about the rowing crew from the University of Washington who won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. I became so engrossed in the obstacles this group of athletes had to overcome that I felt a nervous wreck by the time they crossed the finish line - as if I didn't know all along how it was going to turn out. I'm so glad I read it!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 9:08PM
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Years ago, I tried reading "the great" Virginia Woolf, but just could not see what all the fuss was about.

As for Margaret Atwood, I think her earlier novels and poems are better than her latter work. (I recall enjoying "Surfacing" decades ago).

Chas. Dickens is way out of my comfort zone. The only work of his I ever liked was "A Christmas Carol." I find him dreary and gloomy in the extreme.

I enjoy most memoirs, if well-written. One I did not get into was "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls. I remember thinking as I read it that it could not be completely true. IMHO, it smacked of exaggeration for effect.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 10:03AM
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sheriz6, You will like Honolulu, in a way it's better. The little girl in it is very brave and sets out to better her life and hopefully get an education.

Brennert puts his resources in the back of his book and after looking at those I believe he has written an accurate fairly historical novel.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 2:41PM
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Emma. thank you, I will definitely look for it. I know so little about Hawaii, I appreciate a historically accurate story.

Kathy_T, I'm always happy to add to your TBR pile :) When I like a book, I tend to get really enthusiastic -- especially if I was pleasantly surprised. Your opinion of these may vary, but if you do decide to read one of them, I'd love to know what you think of it.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:00PM
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Vee, I've wondered the same thing: "Is it worth it?" about reading classics and 'great books' that I missed earlier. I seldom finish one of those books and think, "Gee, if I had only read this years ago." It has happened to me, but most of the time I feel that I lived quite well enough without reading such and such. I still have Middlemarch taunting me reproachfully. So many people have said this is G. Eliot's masterpiece and one of the best novels of all time; but if it is, I am curiously immune to it. I think I will stick Middlemarch on my most inaccessible bookshelf.

I was quite amused with your take on Wuthering Heights as opposed to Dido's. WH is one of those classics that readers either love (often wildly) or loathe with equal passion. If I had first read it when I was thirty instead of thirteen, I probably wouldn't have liked it -- and continue to like it -- so much.

Sex and shopping! Annpan, I thought you were being funny with that phrase. Then I ran across it when I was searching for something else and found out that it's an actual (albeit informal) subgenre of Women's Contemporary Literature, just as the derisive 'Chick Lit' is. The things I learn from you all! :-)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:03PM
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Frieda, No, not my description but a very popular sub genre in the 80s and early 90s with authors such as Jackie Collins dishing out those easy reads.
I recently picked up an old copy of a book by Sophie Kinsella who wrote the Shopaholic books (one became a movie) and it brought back bitter sweet memories of a life I had long ago before the Global Financial Crisis hit and somehow the good times and conspicuous consumerism vanished. Ah, well!
Not always a good idea to leave one's comfort zone.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:56PM
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I also have a heavy copy of Middlemarch gathering dust on a top shelf and have heard those same comments about its nobility of purpose/essential reading/character building/vitamin enrichment etc. but have yet to do so much as open the first page.
Some years ago the BBC did an excellent adaptation of it in several episodes so at least I have the gist of the story, if not its moral highmindedness.

'Sex and Shopping' 'chick lit', 'Aga sagas', 'airport lounge' paper backs, 'bedroom romps' all quite descriptive titles. Perhaps they could be used as shelf-headings in bookshops and libraries to save time when choosing something to read.

Ann, the Global Financial Crisis seemed to have passed us by, probably as we never had any money when the children were young and we were living on a barely adequate teacher's salary and our comfort zone was very basic. I thought Australia was largely shielded from all that; not so many unwise financial deal/decisions taken etc.

Here is a link that might be useful: clip from 'Middlemarch'.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 5:39AM
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Vee, yes, Australia came out of the GFC quite well but as my personal income derives in part from the UK, I have lost about a third of the value. The exchange rate against the Australian dollar became pitiful and when bank charges were added, it wasn't worth pulling out that amount monthly.
I got very basic and managed on my Australian pension. As I don't need a car because I don't drive, that helps. We pensioners get free transport at off peak times and I have a bus stop close by. I am also pretty good at bargaining!
Our unwise financial decision was to put money into the Channel Tunnel when we lived in the UK. We were assured it was secure!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 8:52AM
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Vee, thanks for the clip of 'Middlemarch'. Looks as if that TV adaptation might be better than the book. I usually prefer books over films, but occasionally I've found that films can cut to the chase when I lose patience with a writer's style. I have to admit that I've had problems with Eliot's other books, too. Yeah, to some readers Eliot supplies just about everything, probably even "vitamin enrichment" as you say!

Annpan, I never thought about it from that angle, but you could be on to something. A person's comfort zones can change with the times, circumstances and situations in life. Mine have. Although I never went through a 'sex and shopping' phase (sex is all right, but shopping is hell in my opinion), I've had plenty of other phases. Some I grew into; some I grew out of; and in the past few years, I've noticed that I am repeating phases! At one time I could read an autopsy report while eating my lunch, but I lost that ability and don't care to regain it. But I would dearly love to be able to retrieve some of my earlier interests with as much enthusiasm as I once had for them.

Kathy, I have next to no interest in reading about sports, either. But in the context of the 1936 Olympics, the story of the rowing team actually sounds appealing to me. Thank you for relating your reaction to it!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 10:28PM
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My comfort zone is large enough that I don't think I will feel guilty about not straying out of it. No, I won't try to give Margaret Atwood another try, don't care for Charles Dickens (as a concert-goer once said about Beethoven "He's famous. You're supposed to like him"), and I won't read the mysteries that seem to be churned out by the thousands. My feeling is that once you've read one, you've read them all. I've read a few about disfunctional families, too, but then, if they weren't, there wouldn't be anything to write about, would there?

I like all sorts of non-fiction also, including bios and autobios. Just read the two volumes on Eleanor Roosevelt and am looking forward to seeing Ken Burns series next month on the three Roosevelts.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 6:26PM
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Maxmom, hmm, your point about guilt (or the lack of it) is a good one for me to ponder. If left to my own devices, I would probably be content to read only what I fancy -- usually nonfiction with a sprinkling of fiction now and then. However, when I am socializing, it's nice to be able to interact with folk whose book tastes are quite different from mine.

I've had people greet me on introduction with something along the lines of: "I hear you are a great reader (or book lover or reading fiend). Have you read James Patterson's latest or Fifty Shades of whatever or No. 1 on the NYT's bestseller list?"

When I say none of those, the next question is "What do you read?" Ha! I don't think most of them really want to know and if I tell them, I watch the dismissive shutters close. Most people only get animated when you have read the same things they have.

The quote of the concert-goer about Beethoven reminded me of a delightful scene in the film 'Doctor Zhivago' (David Lean's version):

The older doctor who was Yuri Zhivago's mentor attended a piano concert in the home of the Gromekos, Yuri's foster family. The audience of society highbrows were oh, so politely intent on the performance, but the doctor who was seated next to Madame Gromeko was restless. Madame G, noticed him stifling a yawn, said: "Boris, this is genius."

The Doctor: "Really? I thought it was Rachmaninoff. I'm going for a smoke." I've read some good dysfunctional-family novels, but what I don't like are the 'Job" (as in the Bible) stories where the author seems to revel in piling misery on the characters, or usually one character in particular. I heard or read someone say, though, that these stories are intended to make readers actually feel better about themselves and their own situations. Bass-ackwards psychology, in other words. I guess I don't need it or I would appreciate it more.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 1:27AM
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Frieda, have you ever sat through a talk on the problems people have and how to solve them and felt as if something were wrong with you because you don't have any of them and don't need fixing? Not that I've never had a problem, but I seem to have outgrown them, thank Heaven.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 5:08PM
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Carolyn, yes, I've been present at such talks and wondered how I got roped into 'em. I always feel like a fraud. It's not that I can't empathize or sympathize, because I've had problems that I thought were awful. But I am a rather optimistic pessimist: I figure bad stuff will happen but good stuff happens, too. C'est la vie.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2014 at 1:04AM
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As I promised, I am reporting the books my friend (referred to in my opening post of this thread) and I chose for each other to read.

Her choice for me: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, a contemporary novel

My choice was really a compromise because my friend begged off anything that reminded her of a history lesson; thus no Did Marco Polo Go to China? by Frances Wood, although it's a slim 155 pages. Instead we settled on Wild by Cheryl Strayed because of the favorable buzz from critics, book club members, and reviewers at various sites, as well as some RPers. Neither my friend nor I had read it.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is described by one cover blurber as 'the best comedy of manners since Jane Austen' (!) and there are about a hundred other blurbers who claim it's 'howlingly laugh-out-loud funny', etc. etc. Thousands of reviewers contend Bernadette is hilarious, deep, page-turning, thought-provoking...in other words, it ought to be about the best book ever written. My friend thinks it's wonderful.

Oh dear. Humor is too darn subjective. And since Bernadette is satire, it helps to recognize what is being satirized for it to be truly funny. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about Seattle and 'Seattle-types' of people to be able to judge whether Semple nails the satire, although I have to assume she does or so many readers wouldn't be saying so. But, really?! The best since Jane Austen...? Where do people get such comparisons? Oh well, I'm finally somewhat up-to-date: I've read a contemporary novel.

As for Wild: This was a successful choice because my friend and I both hated it. It gave us plenty to rant about! And that was the whole point of the exercise, to get us talking about something we had both read. My friend and I intend to go another round. :-)

    Bookmark   September 20, 2014 at 2:25AM
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Frieda, I had never heard of either of the books you mentioned so checked them out on Amazon (and why oh why do the contributors feel obliged to re-tell the whole 'story' of the book in question?). I don't know if all the comments were from the US or the UK sites but everyone really loved those books particularly 'Wild'. ;-(
There is absolutely no-one around here with whom I can discuss books/reading and although I have seen a few 'locals' in the nearest town library I think they might find me asking "Did you enjoy that book?" or "I see you are taking out another mystery, is that your favourite type of work?" as some terrible personal intrusion.
As an eg of general 'booklessness' or lack of interest in reading locally . . . an elderly acquaintance told me, with some pride, that he had a book all about the area and he would be happy for me to borrow it. His wife found the huge and heavy tome and while she was hunting for a bag I asked her what the title was. She had no idea and could see nothing on the front cover. I suggested she look at the spine and we found that it was a copy of a 1914 Kellys trade directory, for the counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset and the City of Bristol, a very popular publication back in the day . . .other volumes covered the whole country.
She went on to say that the pages concerning 'our' village had been torn out, but nonetheless I might find something of interest in it.
Well, I staggered home and laid it reverently on the dining room table and have spent several happy hours going through it. There are no pages missing, 'our' village is listed albeit briefly. I now know who the principle landowners were, the name of the vicar, the times of the last post to London and the local shopkeepers, farmers, publicans, boot repairers . . . in fact anyone who was prepared to pay to have their name added.
I found I was happily within my 'comfort zone' though it would hardly be suitable for bed-time reading.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2014 at 6:24AM
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Vee, for a while I had a pet theory about people who read versus people who usually don't read and certainly don't read for pleasure. I got the idea from observing my own family members mostly.

Reading, because it is primarily a solitary activity, is considered selfish and there's a lot of guilt associated in the indulgence of selfish pursuits. So even some people who might like to read, won't, because they don't want to be perceived as lazy and self-absorbed. Reading is a time-consumer that takes away from time that could be better spent scrubbing the family toilets, running around town shopping, or communing with others in front of a shrine otherwise known as a television. At least that's the sense I've perceived in this extrovert-worshiping U.S.A. It doesn't always hold up -- such as among American RPers who obviously value reading and are probably introverts, at heart (grin) -- but I'd say 7 out of 10, maybe 8 out of 10 Americans I've known in various locales would rather do almost anything other than reading books. So your non-reading English locals, Vee, are likely no worse than their American counterparts.

I probably would love the Kellys trade directories! That sort of thing is very much in my comfort zone too.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 4:48AM
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What you suggest Frieda, sounds pretty much the same as here.
I have to admit to not reading, other than a glance at the paper, in the morning. Probably going back to the old guilt thing of 'making better use of your time'. If such housework as I do (fairly minimal) isn't done by lunch-time it doesn't get done that day. So the loos might get cleaned, the odd cobweb removed etc. I too hate shopping. DH is good at essentials; then I allow myself an hour or two with a book in the afternoon. Even this causes John to look on in mock horror, especially if he is mowing/digging/planting and I am reading outside.
I don't think UK men are great readers (Martin here at RP must be a noble exception). Maybe the newspaper or some sort of trade/hobby journal/periodical but not old-fashioned books.
Is it the same where you all are?
Re the Kelly's directory. I checked out the street in Bristol to which my DD, now back from S America, has moved. The apartment block (or flats as we call them) has been built on the site of the old Bristol glass works and a chemical manure factory. No wonder there is a decided lack of greenery in the area! They do, however have a magnificent view of the ancient parish church of St Mary Redcliffe.

Here is a link that might be useful: Grave of Wm Penn Sn. St Mary Redcliffe

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 6:02AM
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Frieda - I'd be interested to hear you rant about Wild.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 8:59AM
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About non-readers vs. compulsive readers: in the family where I grew up, we were EXPECTED to all be readers. It was considered odd not to be a compulsive reader. My mother was in a book club; I was taken weekly to the library as soon as I was old enough to obtain a card, and my father had a huge collection of books, fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps this fact had something to do with it: both my grandparents were school teachers. Each had small libraries which they passed on to their many descendants.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 12:25PM
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You're probably wondering why I'm suddenly posting on here today a lot. Well, Downton Abbey has restarted today. My wife and daughter have settled down to watch it, and I've left them to it. (I enjoyed the first series, but it just got more and more farfetched - I abandoned it in the middle of the second series.)

Comfort zones. There are really two different sorts of comfort zones, aren't there - there is the comfort zone of the the subject of the book, and the comfort zone of the way it's written.

Several people have mentioned Cloud Atlas - I think that's a good example of a book where it's the style of the book that makes it hard, not the actual story. (Me, I loved Cloud Atlas). "Streams of consciousness" novels are the ones that drive me to distraction. I tried and tried and TRIED to read Umbrella by Will Self last year. It was short-listed for the Booker, and was considered to be quite excellent. I couldn't make head nor tail of it.

But I've also read books where it's the subject matter that takes me out of my comfort zone. Blindness by Jose Saramago is one of those. Brilliantly written, marvellous story - and remarkably unpleasant events. It's a wonderful book, which I'm glad I've read. But I think it's highly unlikely that I'll ever read it again.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 4:50PM
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Vee, my father was a great reader of books, as are my oldest brother and my older son, but most of my other male relatives, friends, and acquaintances are only into reading of manuals and newsworthy stuff on the Internet and other gadgets. Sounds as if most UK and U.S. men are very much alike in that respect. Yet there are plenty of male authors of books...read mostly by women? I don't know.

Kathy, I have little affinity for so-call redemptive memoirs. They are definitely out of my comfort zone. Cheryl's (I refuse to refer to her by her contrived other name) writing in Wild seems to be: LOOK AT ME; I had Problems with a capital P, but LOOK AT ME now, I had an epiphany while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

"Well, good for you, Cheryl," is about all I can say. She writes like an advice columnist which she apparently was/is. I don't think her book works well as a travelogue, either. She whines too much at the hardships and she took every chance to get off the trail. Okay, she can turn a few good phrases occasionally, but I got tired of waiting for them.

My reading companion's reaction to Cheryl's Wild is more vehement than mine: "Idiocy" is her kindest estimation. :-)

Martin, I think you've pegged comfort zones. Yes, there's the subject/story and the style of writing. Either may enhance the other, but just as often they can kill or cancel each other out.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 8:46PM
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Frieda - That's a very interesting and convincing take on Wild. I was kind of fascinated by Cheryl's bad-girl ways and the craziness of her undertaking, but I don't disagree with anything you said. Very thought provoking.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2014 at 9:57PM
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I was fortunate in having parents who enjoyed reading but my grandmother rather disapproved of my mother and later me, having their "nose stuck in a book' instead of doing useful things.
Luckily, when I boarded with her, I worked in a private library (Boots) so had the excuse of it being part of my job to read the latest books so that I could recommend them to the paying subscribers!
My female descendants, even unto the Great-grandchildren love to read but the males do not. One grandson said that he would read a couple of pages one day and then forget who the characters were so had to start again!
Of course he is fine with technical manuals etc. No characters or plot to worry about!
I would say that people in Australia enjoy reading and use the many libraries. This used to be because of the high cost of books but with the global network allowing cheaper books bought through the net, e-books etc. this isn't such a problem. The libraries now have a lot more than book loans to keep pace with modern needs.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2014 at 9:19AM
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Annpan - A private library with paying subscribers? I've never heard of that. (Why do I have a feeling that everyone else knows about this except me?)

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 10:25PM
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If you check on Google for Boots Booklovers Library, you can find the history of the private subscription library I used to work for.
When I moved to Australia, I found there was a subscription library run by the railway dept. in Perth WA

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 4:11AM
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Kathy, subscription and circulating libraries were the forerunners of the modern 'free' libraries . . . not that they are really free as they are paid for by local rates/taxes . . . which didn't begin until the end of the nineteenth century with the trend towards general education of the masses and the lower cost of books.
I found lots of interesting articles on-line. Nice to know that it became a way for women and servants (often one and the same?!) to 'improve' themselves.

Here is a link that might be useful: Early subscription libraries

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 4:47AM
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I shall mention that the exams I took with Boots to become a Librarian with the ultimate goal of managing a library, weren't acknowledged in the Public Library system.
I was rather indignant about this but when I went to work at a Public Library, I realised the difference.
I had no knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System as all the subscription library non-fiction, mainly popular bios and travel books, were shelved by author.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 6:24AM
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Frieda, your take on Wild is very interesting. I really liked the book, and after reading your thoughts (and agreeing with most of them) I had to wonder why I did.

As I said before, I was expecting another Eat, Pray, Love, which I disliked intensely and wrote off as a lot of upper-class, poor-me, imaginary-problem, first-world whining. When I read Wild, I did see her pretentiousness (esp. the name change, I agree that was stupid), but she fascinated me in a way the other author did not.

Cheryl Strayed was a train wreck, and I couldn't look away. She did have serious problems, some out of her control (abusive father, poverty, erratic upbringing) and many of her own making (marriage, heroin, affairs). However, when my book group discussed the book, one member who is a social worker told us that the author's relationship and drug problems are typical, if not almost universal, among children coming out of abusive families, especially after the "good" parent dies, so I felt her issues were serious and legitimate.

What grabbed me was how visceral and unflinching she was with her writing. And trying to reconcile this incredible screw-up of a woman with the very sane and "normal" voice of the writer kept me interested. How did she get from there to here?

That said, I agree with you that, yes, she is pretentious. Yes, she made her own problems and usually managed to do her best to make them worse. I also learned that real hikers hate her book because she did absolutely everything wrong in preparing for and hiking the trail. But somehow I still liked it.

I'm very glad you read it, I'm always interested in your commentary and point of view.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 7:44AM
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In the U.S.A. there were also many early private, subscription only libraries, even in small towns. Often they were combined with art societies and historical societies under one roof. I know this because I used to work for a library in a small Pennsylvania town whose proud history was the aforementioned.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 10:26AM
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I've heard about subscription libraries -- and Boots in particular -- but I've never had any experience with them. It's interesting, Vee, that Jane and Cassandra were subscribers in the late 18th century. I have also read speculation about the Brontes having access to private subscription libraries, although apparently no proof of which one(s) has yet been found, at least they hadn't been when I was on my last Bronte kick abut ten years ago. I hadn't read before that subscription was considered superior to circulating, but after reading the type of books available in each, I can see why they were considered so. However, I like Austen's spirited defense of reading novels. I've long loved her send up of Gothic romances in Northanger Abbey.

Annpan, can you recall the 'typical' books that subscribers most favored at your particular Boots? What about the gender -- more women, about the same number of women and men?

Sheri, I found Eat, Love, Pray insufferable for all the reasons you described, and I probably didn't finish it. So I will admit that Wild, compared to Eat, etc., is better than trying to endure eating wasabi, which I loathe. I consumed all of Wild.

Your comment about Cheryl being a 'train wreck' hits home with me. I felt like a rubbernecker passing an auto crash, and was ashamed of my voyeuristic tendency. Also, the farther I got into the book, the more I thought she was laying it on with a trowel and I became skeptical. I don't really doubt that she had Problems, but I wonder if she might be overstating things for effect: Oh, if you think you've had problems, just let me tell you about mine. That sort of thing. As for the 'unflinching' quality of her writing, I felt that too was part of her dramatic self-representation. Isn't exhibition another way people who have lived in abusive situations react?

I'm not sorry I read Wild, Sheri. It should give me a bit of insight as to why this sort of memoir seems to be so widely popular. But personally I still find it uncomfortable reading and will not purposefully seek out this sort of writing.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 12:55AM
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Frieda, I left the subscription library job in 1955 so my memories of the place are a bit dim!
Because of the cost involved, readers came mainly from the middle class also travelling actors etc who could borrow from one branch and return the book to another.
I think there were more women readers and they read the popular authors of the day also the Mills and Boone publications. All hardback of course!
The men liked Westerns and these were written by authors both male and female who had never been to the West, Wild or otherwise, I was told! They used their imaginations and the work of genuine writers as guides! Apparently the publishers paid well.
The Google article (infosciencetoday.org) was very good and factual. Our library was indeed placed at the back of the upper level of Boots The Chemist, a kind of department store, where all manner of items were sold, next to the tea rooms where a string trio played light classical music from 3-4pm.
Eventually the tea room was disbanded to make room for more departments and the rest of the shop was modernised with dark painted ceilings and bright lighting.
This was supposed to guide the shopper to look down at the displays and was the reason why a number of staff left, complaining of headaches and claustrophobia.
I left because I had had enough of my rather sarcastic Librarian (!) and was offerred a career position in the Civil Service.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 6:45AM
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