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Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading Paperback – February 17, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
"Adventures in reading" may sound like an oxymoronic proposition, but Zane's collection points out that a wild journey or a bold feat can be inspired by a great piece of writing. Zane has culled a series of essays from the Raleigh News & Observer (where he is book review editor) in which authors assign superlatives ("the most enchanting," "the wisest," "the classiest") to their (usually) favorite books (there is also "the most dangerous" and "the most disappointing"). The results are occasionally surprising and enlightening: Clyde Edgerton's "most technically elegant" book-a flying manual-proves that good writing can be found in unlikely places. Jonathan Lethem's "loneliest" book (i.e., "I've still never met anyone else who's read it") is an obscure children's story by 1960s pop psychologist Eric Berne called The Happy Valley. Nasdijj chooses Louis L'Amour's To Tame a Land as his "saddest," for its inaccurate portrayal of cowboys and Native Americans. Some of the essays are anecdotal; others read like critical analysis, such as Doris Betts's examination of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho (she concludes that her "most unpleasant" book has no artistic merit). At times, the rigid short format constricts the depth of the writing, and there are a few pat "aha" moments-Brett Lott's essay on The Catcher in the Rye, for one. At its best, this volume offers easily digestible nuggets of insight about why the written word matters.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Curious about what writers read and how books have influenced them, Zane, book review editor for the Raleigh News & Observer, invited 34 writers to contribute essays launched by the request that they fill in the blank: "the most ______ book I ever read." Zane's challenge elicited truly eye-opening responses about the most memorable, enchanting, dangerous, daunting, exotic, devastating, smokin', and luminous books read by the likes of Bebe Moore Campbell (The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss), Charles Frazier (The Tarahumara, by Antonin Artaud), and Lee Smith (The Little Locksmith, by Katharine Butler Hathaway). Much of the pleasure of this exciting little volume is found in the surprising selections of the contributors and in the diverse sensibilities of the contributors themselves, a notable list that also includes Lydia Millet, whose essay on The War with the Newts by Karel Capek, is a knockout; nature writer Scott Weidensaul on Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac; and Canadian novelist Elizabeth Hay on Pauline Kael. Fresh and thought-provoking, this anthology is pure catnip for book lovers. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
While this collection is certainly of uneven quality, it is one of the few that I have ever read where the range is from simply interesting to truly outstanding. The selections range in length from five to eight pages, so each is easily able to be completed in one sitting; sometimes I found myself wanting to contemplate one before I moved on to the next piece, while at other times I couldn't contain my excitement and immediately wanted to proceed to the experience chronicled by the next author. Zane chose to arrange them in chronological order, but not when they were written or read but rather approximately in the order of the age of the reader when it was first read. (Indeed several have been reread multiple times; one of the interesting elements of some of the essays is how the authors' reactions to these books changed over time.) While I was familiar with several of the books and a few of the writers included in this collection, the majority were new to me and I now have numerous additional items on my "to read" list.
In some instances the essay is primarily about the book, in a few the book is placed in the context of the body of the author's work, but the majority of the pieces involve the journey (sometimes intensely personal) which the book occasioned for the reader. While this was often just the enchantment which we all feel when confronted by the power of great literature, it was on one occasion the impetus for a twenty five hundred mile actual journey to the scene where the action in the book occurred. In all cases, these essays reveal some aspect of the power of literature and how it can influence our lives.
In order to provide some specificity to this review, I will provide a few examples which were especially meaningful/poignant/interesting to me or in some instances where I was moved by willingness of these authors to reveal the depth of their emotional reactions to the books which they had chosen. First, Jonathan Lethem's choice of THE HAPPY VALLEY for "loneliest book", primarily because I had never considered what would make a book lonely and was intrigued both by his definitional approach and the book itself (which I have subsequently purchased and read, so it is not so lonely any more). Second, I was totally fascinated by the explication by Joan Barfoot of her choice of THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK by Doris Lessing as the "maddest book" she's ever read. Third, Clyde Edgerton's description of the most "technically elegant" (he cheated, two words) he'd ever read and how it had probably saved his life interested me in a topic that I had no idea could hold my attention (STICK AND RUDDER: AN EXPLANATION OF THE ART OF FLYING). Last, Doris Betts explanation of why she completed AMERICAN PSYCHO despite it being the most "unpleasant" book she'd ever read both fascinated me and reinforced my longstanding decision that it was a book whose covers I would never open. As an aside, I was also appreciative of the fact that H.W. Brands finally explained to me why THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS was "incomprehensible" to me when it was assigned reading during my teenage years but why I might actually enjoy it today.
So, I highly recommend this collection. It is by writers who have done a wonderful job of imparting their insights to us, both on a personal level and as practitioners of their craft. You will undoubtedly discover a few works which you will want to read for yourself; there will probably be others which despite your interest in the essay, the books are so alien to your interests as a reader (or so depressing) that you will want to avoid them at all costs. Finally, in all probability there are at least a few of these essay writers with whose works you were previously unfamiliar but that you will now be drawn to read; among the genres represented by these writers are historical novels (including COLD MOUNTAIN), character driven stories, science and ecology, poetry, and children's stories and fantasy. This is collection is truly an illustration of the reasons for our fascination with and enjoyment of good books, and the lasting impact which they can have upon our lives.
passions, even if, like Doris Betts, the passion is negative. Or reading Peder Zane remembering how, as a college student, he fell in love with Freud because Freud was hip. Or Lee K. Abbott falling in love with the language of Absalom, Absalom! though the he was daunted by the book and didn't finish it till forty years after he started it. Remarkable!
The book is just a great read.
There are a couple of good essays, but the rest are forgettable. Many are pretentious, having the dense, overwritten tone of something you'd find in "Best American Essays." Some of the authors praise the novel for pages without ever bothering to describe what it's about.
Still, I owe this book a debt of gratitude. It turned me on to a couple of books that I didn't know existed, and have come to love: "The Easter Parade," "Shot in the Heart," and a couple of others.
The editor should also not be allowed to include his own essay!
NOTE: The author of one of the essays, "The Saddest Book I Read," writing under the name "Nasdijj" has, since the publication of this book, more or less been exposed as a fraud. The essay was an attempt to demolish Louis L'amour's "To Tame a Land." Pity: I found the essay the most persuasive in the book up to that point. So much so that I went netsearching for information about him. After reading those LA Weekly articles, I read the essay again and wondered that I could have fallen for it.
Rebeccasreads recommends REMARKABLE READS as a blog in which writers tell of what they were doing at the time they read their selected books; how their lives changed; their ideas about writing; their epiphanies & peeves. Yes, writers do read & write about what they read, quite well too!