The Simple Life

library of america louisa-may-alcott-little-women-men-jos-hardcover-cover-artMy mother’s life was very simple.

No computer.  No answering machine.

My sibling claims she was valedictorian of her high school class, but I think he made it up for the obituary.

Out of the house every day. Dinner at my grandmother’s or Hamburg Inn.  Movies.  Made sure I had a copy of Little Women and a bicycle and then left me alone.

Squinting:  "Thanks for the bike, Mom!"

Squinting: “Thanks for the bike, Mom!”

I still read.  Obviously.  A hard-core environmentalist, I never learned to drive.  Deliberately.  I am still riding my bike.

But today I went to 36 sites online, most of them book-related, instead of biking.  (Well, I biked to the store, but that doesn’t count.)

Why didn’t I turn off the computer?

Much as I love book reviews, I am weary of them.

It happened this week.  Suddenly.  After the funeral.  I realized I need time, not online time.

Why go to The New York Times when I have already read my 10 free articles for the month?  Or The Washington Post Book World, where absolutely nothing looks interesting lately?  I can’t possibly read every book in translation I read about in the TLS.  I don’t need to read book review publications more than once a month.

I am cutting way, way back.  I will use my online time for internet-only features like blogs and internet magazines.

The internet is for the unconventional, right?  Or used to be.  So why use it for traditional stuff?

I have been uninterested in the new books reviewed lately.  No way am I reading the heavily-promoted Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, by Boris Kachka.

I don’t like that sucking-up of “Most Celebrated” in the title. And it so happens that none of the books I’ve loved this summer has been published By FSG.  Steve Yarbrough’s The Realm of Last Chances (Knopf).  Karen E. Bender’s A Town of Empty Rooms (Counterpoint).  Andre Aciman’s Harvard Square (Norton).  I pay no attention to publishers, but that’s the way it’s turned out.

Pamela Erens’ The Virgins (Tin House), yet another novel about an “exclusive boarding school,” received a rave review by John Irving in The New York Times.  It may be brilliant–I don’t know Erens’ work–but I gave up boarding-school lit after Ursula Nordstrom’s The Secret Language.

And I can’t read any more books about the Kennedys, even if Thurston Clarke’s JFK’s Last Hundred Days is good.

Here is a list of books I’ve read this month.  Only one new book, and I found out about none of them from reviews!

  1. Anna Karenina. A reread I started last spring and just finished.  One of my favorite books.
  2. Good Daughters by Mary Hocking.  Ad in back of Virago.
  3. The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough.  At Amazon or Barnes and Noble website.
  4. No More Parades and A Man Could Stand Up–, by Ford Madox Ford.  Rereads.
  5. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker.  A reread, inspired by Emily Books.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale graham joyceNot only do I not need reviews, I apparently no longer need award lists.  Today I discovered that I have read two of the finalists for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel without reading any reviews.  Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a brilliant novel about a woman who disappeared 20 years and returns saying she was abducted by faeries (or was she psychologically damaged?); and The Drowning Girl by Caitla­n R. Kiernan is a strange, lyrical, fantasy-cum-psychological novel.

My husband says I’m a book magnet, and I think it’s true.

I’ll still be blogging and reading your blogs, but I’ll be leading a simpler life online.  If you have any recommendations for internet-only sites–like book clubs at GoodReads–I’m game!

6 thoughts on “The Simple Life

  1. I definitely recommend LibraryThing where I hang out, in preference to GoodReads. LT has a load of different groups (the best one I am in being the very active Virago Modern Classics one) and I’ve found a lot of blogs here which I now follow and where I get much more in the way of book tips than anywhere else. I’m a little wary of GR because of them being owned by Amazon – LT seems much more independent and I’ve met nothing but friendliness there.


  2. I enjoy some book reviews – mostly when they are essays, but except for a very few whose author has an outlook or perception like mine, most of the time I find they don’t lead me to precisely the book I need at a given time. A good friend who knows you and understands your taste is better. Most of the books reviewed in establishment publications on or off-line come from within a coterie and are pushed for many other reasons (agendas of all sorts of people) than what’s in the book. I often get more out of an older book but I can get more closely intimate with a contemporary one — paradoxically it’s hard to get really useful (perceptive, informative) information about books still. Older ones there’s more because they’ve been around a lot more, but even there much is distorted.


  3. Karen, I’ll look into LibraryThing. I do belong to one book group at GoodReads, but it’s jumbled with readers’ comments and then writers’ comments about their new books, so it’s a bit jarring.

    Ellen, suddenly I don’t want to read them anymore. Very unlike me. I’m sure I’ll be back in the fall. But, yes, I read them mainly to find out new books exist, rather than allowing the reviewers to judge for me. Often I can read between the lines…


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