Sunday, July 21, 2013



What to read? What to read?!  I can’t call this a dilemma, because it isn’t, but trying to figure out what I’m going to read next is not always easy.  Actually, it is only easy if I have the next book sitting in front of me. 
I don’t purchase books out of consideration for A) my retirement budget, and B) my lack of shelving space in the apartment.  I choose not to have an e-reader since a goodly number of books I want to read are not in e-form, and “A)” above.

So here’s what I do.  Mostly, I read online and in-print book reviews, pick the brains of my reader friends, and on occasion (when I’m desperate) walk the aisles at my local library to see if anything catches my interest.  The latter is not very rewarding, which I attribute to the mind-set of a head librarian who prefers to spend her money buying children’s books. 
Today I’m going to tell you about the very strange way I chose the book I’m reading now and which has turned out to be one of the most fantastic books I’ve ever read.  The way it happened is so bizarre that I am embarrassed to admit to it, but it truly provided a serendipitous result.

I have an iGoogle page, dotted with little “apps” or “Gadgets,” as Google calls them.  I guess it is my answer to playing computer games.  On this page at the upper left I have a Gadget called “Hangman.”  There is a platform with a noose, all in cartoon form.  One can pick the category to use: the category I always choose is “20th century Novels”.  I choose letters, one by one, and hopefully can guess the book title before the little cartoony character (me, of course) gets hung.
On the right side of the page I have put a gadget that has a cartoon hamster in a cage.  Not only is there a wheel he can run in, but also it is possible to click on the page and give him some hamster food – little pebbles, up to 12 at a time.  He runs over, picks up the pebbles one by one, and uses his little paws to hold them while he nibbles.  Periodically he goes over to get some water, but then comes back and finishes up eating, at which time he goes back to the wheel.  I have named the hamster “Henry.”

Now what I do (and here is where you are going to think I am totally off my rocker) is this.  I get my hangman game set up and ready to go and then I give Henry his first food of the day – his 12 pebbles.  Once he starts to eat, I play hangman and try to finish (winning, rather than hanging, of course) before Henry finishes his breakfast.  The goal isn’t whether he wins or whether I win.  It is just a bit of frivolity before I sit down to the serious business of starting my e-day.
But here’s the point of today’s blog: I do not know all the books that I see running by my eyes from that hangman game.  There are some usual ones, like Atlas Shrugged (I read), Catch 22 (saw movie), Sophie’s Choice (neither), Watership Down (read), Lolita (read), and so forth.  There was one that always caught my eye because I had never heard of it and I didn’t understand what it meant: Angle of Repose.  Actually, there are a number of them that I don’t know and which occasionally circle past me more than once, but Angle of Repose catches my attention every time I see it.

A week or so ago I was at that point when if I didn’t get some books on reserve at the library, I was going to end up bookless!  So I checked to see if Angle of Repose was even in my library system’s collection and sure enough, it was.  I ordered it brought to my library so I could check it out.
In the meantime, I checked the dictionary and learned that an angle of repose is a term that means where matter stops rolling downhill.  While the dictionary defined it in geologic terms, I asked Jerry if he had ever heard of it and he said he met it in an architecture class at MIT.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but when the book arrived and the cover stated that the author, Wallace Stegner, won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1972, I figured I was in for a treat.  And a treat it is.
I can’t remember when I have been so delighted with a book.  It is big and fat – and I am predisposed to like those books from the get-go.  Of course I like books with good plots.  This has it.  I like books with good writing.  This has it.  I like books with interesting characters.  This has them.  I like books that catch me early on.  This did.  But here’s what, to me, is the most special.  Stegner uses four generations of people to move his story, and he moves between them seamlessly.  He has one generation answering questions that may have come up in the earlier generation’s story and that the reader didn’t even think to ask.  As the story of the narrator’s grandparents is being written by the protagonist, the reader begins to see and understand more clearly the modern day characters in the book.  It’s a book of wonderful discoveries – not by the plot but by the reader.  But aside from all that, it is a darn interesting tale! 

I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book now.  It’s a book I don’t want to read too fast because there is a lot to think about in between the pages.   I renewed it early so I could be sure of having it until I am finished with it at my own speed, not having to hurry because someone else has it on their reserve list.
As we used to say in elementary school at the conclusion of giving our oral book reports, “And if you want to know what happens, read the book!” 

But I also need to remind you that good books can be found in VERY odd places.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Caitlin read this in one of her honors English classes. Don't know if she remembers much about it, but it might be worth asking her.