Monday, March 23, 2015

What to read next

If you have ever entered a large library like the main branch of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library

Image result for enoch pratt free library

you know what being surrounded by way, way more than you can consume feels like.  Inside older, advanced libraries, you are enclosed in ideas, adventures, delights, but also trials, boredom, fatigue, silliness, and distaste.

Image result for enoch pratt free library

When you have a particular book or subject in mind,you can develop a beeline quest for what you are after.  When you have an enveloping book in hand, you can see that all that other stuff is just a distraction and you can ignore it.

But there comes a time when the book ends, the last episode has been viewed, the final notes played.  Then the search begins. For books and movies, there are many prompts, ads and suggestions.  My own web site has many pages of book titles and suggestions.

The book "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, explains the research that basically shows we humans are not very good at predicting how happy something will make us.  But, we are good at getting accustomed to things.  So, whether something is fun or satisfying or not, we can become habituated to it and lose our awareness of its quality.

Over the years, the most interesting and fun course I taught was Personal Reading for Professional Development.  The point of the course was to review what had been read by each student over the entire lifetime, from "The Pokey Little Puppy" Golden Book to "The Mudhen" to "Woman Wanted" to "Silas Marner."  Textbooks and books of cartoons or collections of photographs also count.  I tried to have students begin by listing all the books they could remember just using their memories, without notes or library searches of any kind. The idea was to see what books came to mind.  However, it often happened that when somebody looked at another person's list, they recognized a title they had read, one they recalled lovingly and were surprised they hadn't thought of such a wonderful book.  Unaided recall is only one path to remembering what one has read.

My main point here is that a book that has moved a reader, that has stayed in the memory of the reader, is often a good bet for someone else to enjoy.  Of course, tastes differ.  Even the same book might appeal to me today but not 20 years ago or the reverse.

These days, when I ask people about what they are reading, I try to avoid saying "what is your favorite book" or other wording that promotes a ranking or a contest.  A beloved science book, a really good math book, a favorite cookbook and a mystery book I like are very different  from each other and it is a waste of time to try to say which is ultimately the best.  Best for what, best for when, best for whom???

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