July 4, 2014

The Shelf: from LEQ-LES: Adventures in extreme reading by Phyllis Rose

cover of book

The Shelf: from LES-LEQ: Adventures in extreme reading

by: Phyllis Rose

9/10 bookmarks

"Believing that literary critics wrongly favor the famous and canonical...I wanted to sample, more democratically, the actual ground of literature. So I chose a fiction shelf in the New York Society Library somewhat at random - it happens to be the LEQ-LES shelf - and set out to read my way through it" (p. 3)

So begins the experiment in discovering new-to-her authors and books. Rose chose this shelf specifically because it had a good mix: classic works and newer offerings, men and women authors (although not in equal proportions), and books she'd heard of and ones she hadn't. But she didn't just read these books. She fully explored them. She read A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov in at least 3 translations. She read information about the authors. She looked up interviews on Youtube. She even contacted a couple of the authors personally. What results is a thoroughly engrossing tale of discovery.

I personally have no desire to try her experiment. I hold no truck with bad books, and she read some awful ones. I have only recently given myself permission to stop reading a book I don't like. Nancy Pearl, the rock star librarian, suggests giving a book 50 pages (if you are younger than 50 years old) to decide if you will continue. Being the rebel that I am, I sometimes quit before that. No time to waste on books I don't like.

When I picked this book up, it was close to midnight and I expected it to be dry and informational and put me right to sleep. I had to put it away because I was keeping my husband awake with my giggling. It's not an overtly hilarious book, but she does have a way of invoking a scene.

I love books about books, of which this is an excellent example. Some people may ask why I would want to read a book about someone else reading books. My answer would be, "so I can learn to read better, myself".