Reading for Pleasure

I love books. No really, everything about them. The entire tactile experience of them — the feel of the paper, the sound of the pages as they turn, the smell of a new book, the smell of a used book (well, okay, sometimes I don’t love the smell of a used book) — is something I treasure, and I find that whenever I have spent too much time staring at pixels, there’s nothing like reading a book to bring me back to loving words again. I’m terrible to my books, though. Or at least I’ve been told that I’m terrible to them, because I underline things and scribble notes all over the margins and read them over and over again until the spine gives up and starts spitting out pages. Something like this:


This is my copy of Adrienne Rich’s collection of poetry, The Fact of a Doorframe, which I’ve had since I was 19 or so, and it’s probably the most-used book in my collection. For me at least, there’s always something to be found in that book of poems, and I turn to it often, just because I know that I can count on it for some good reading, even though now I have to mind the pages and be very careful so as not to have the entire thing fall apart.

But there’s something about reading for pleasure, something that goes beyond the tactile experience, something as intangible as a feeling. Like falling in love, or getting champagne bubbles up your nose, or kissing that cute someone for the very first time, there’s a feeling that goes along with reading something great that is just indescribably good. Of course, if you’ve read something and truly loved it, then what I’m writing isn’t news, but it’s something that doesn’t get talked about much. From books whose endings are so insanely perfect that I’m left reading the last sentence or paragraph 10 or 15 times before letting go (Immortality by Milan Kundera and On the Road by Jack Kerouac come to mind) to openings so amazing that there’s nothing to do but be excited about the book in your hands (like, say, the opening of Lolita), reading for pleasure is just that: a pleasure.

In a world overrun with information, from blogs to news to RSS feeds to e-mail, blogs about books, blogs about news, even probably blogs about RSS feeds and e-mail, it’s pretty easy to spend all day reading, but — and maybe this is just me — it’s pretty easy not to enjoy any of this constant bombardment of words. Yet even though the really good books are often neither quick nor easy, they’re definitely worth the effort. Like love, I suppose.

I do love books. Don’t you?

13 Responses

  1. Life Without Books is
    Life Without Books is Anti-Life

    I was reading the Best American Short Stories series in the ’90s because I’d lost the patience to read novels, e.g., I just traded Fowles’ The Collector because the story didn’t grab me enough and I decided I didn’t need to use my time for that book. I was in that short story reading mode for the longest time until I read Catch-22, in an apartment without TV or the internet.
    I realized this was what good fiction was and resolved to read but sometimes fall back into my old habits.
    I never understand the comments: “I’ll see the movie”, “What are you studying?”–Why wouldn’t someone want to read for pleasure?–“Why do you WANT to read that?”, etc. The inability, or incuriousity?, to want to read the best novels out there is beyond me. The American-zen outlook that you can get whatever you want out of life by not reading or that you’re stupid if you have to read the manual always irked me and puzzled me. Most likely, it’s the culture: authors aren’t the biggest stars on late-night TV and producers don’t dare to waste valuable commercial viewing time on book discussion. Late night hosts don’t start their monologs: “I just read this novel that changed my life…”
    I’ve never known anyone personally who committed themselves to writing. Neither have I known anyone who wanted to read anything besides pulp, and correspondence, the little brother to real writing, has died at the hands of single sentence emails, text messaging and online chat.

  2. Penguin ClassicsThe books
    Penguin Classics

    The books I’ve loved in my life have been paperbacks, usually dime-novel sized. I don’t think I’ve ever really had a strong identification with hardcover books. The books I’ve been most enamored with through my whole life are Penguin Classics, which I used to buy like packs of baseball cards. I read many a dull ancient tome just for the pleasure of adding another Penguin Classic to my row.

  3. Hidden TreasureI agree, there
    Hidden Treasure

    I agree, there is something about a book that is different from the internet, which I like. There is a series of Penguin Classics that have a nice look and feel to them.

    Going into a used book store is like hunting for hidden treasure. I also like inserting a business card with my website address into books at the library so other people can find them. But that’s another story.

  4. I love booksI could not live
    I love books

    I could not live without books. I no longer devour a book in a single sitting as I did when I was just a kid nor stay up all night reading because I couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing what was going to happen before heading off the dreamland.

    My favorite book as a kid was Kidnapped. I don’t know how many times I read it. As a teen it was The Virginian. I had sections of that book memorized and although I never owned the book I checked it our from the library enough to make sure it would always be available and not discarded as some books were that were not used enough.

    I have favorite authors now that I wait for their next volume to appear on the shelf but in most cases this is just pop lit and not anything more than a delightful buzz when read. However, I do think that there are great writers today. I think there is just so much being published that it is difficult to find one. I would hate to think that the next generation would be deprived of Kundera’s gifted writing because he was only current in our time.

    Oh, Books! I adore them. They are one love of my life that have always been reliable and there when I needed one.

  5. I couldn’t live without
    I couldn’t live without books

    I think that book lovers are shrinking in numbers and there’s nothing to be done about it. I put that on the schools as much as tv and the internet. Also there seem to be few great novelists of the stature of previous years. That said, I own thousands of books and feel better just looking at them on the shelves. There are magical books (like Why Beckett, by Brater) — no idea why they are so spellbinding. Then there are books I’ve read again and again over the years, like On the Road, Tropic of Cancer, and Crime and Punishment.

    Amazon, with its one-click buying is very dangerous for people like us! Like turning an alkie loose in a liquor store with a credit card. Still, there is nothing like browsing used book stores (fortunately we still have them in Boston).

  6. Books and Book StoresI love
    Books and Book Stores

    I love books, and I love book stores. Going into a good bookstore is like entering a sanctuary. The only people in the store are people who read. In Paris there are literally thousands of places to buy books. If you want a book in English, you can go to the W.H. Smith shop on rue Rivoli. It is a very English sort of place. Or there is Galignani a little further down on the same street. This is a beautiful shop with books in both French and English. They had (and perhaps still have) a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal, art-book sized, with color prints of Symbolist paintings as illustrations. Another favorite bookstore of mine is Gibert Joseph – it is literally six floors of books, mostly in French, with a whole floor devoted to French Literature. For French paperbacks you can’t beat Livres de Poche or Gallimard.

    For used books in English there is the famous Shakespeare and Company. Close by along the Seine are the stalls of the bouquinistes – people who sell anything from paperbacks for one euro to old leather-bound tomes from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Every weekend there is a book market in Parc Georges Brassens, where you can find French classics bound in beautiful red Moroccan leather with gold lettering, along with BD – bande dessin

  7. Have you seen these new
    Have you seen these new deluxe edition Penguin classics? I just saw an ad for them in the New York Review of Books. They commissioned artists to do covers for a dozen of their titles. A guy named Seth did a cover for Dharma Bums, (and also for the Portable Dorothy Parker) and now I want a copy even though I already have a copy of Dharma Bums. Art Spiegelman did The New York Trilogy.

    I also have a thing with bookmarks. Usually, my bookmark is a rail or plane ticket, a post it, a receipt,admission stub; whatever I have handy when I start the book. They become part of the book as I use them, and remain with them after I finish.

    My love for the physical book is why I don’t use libraries as much as I should. And I don’t understand treating a book as a delicate object; afraid to break the binding, not underlining or writing in the margins. A book should look and feel like it’s been read, carried around in a backpack, spilled on, underlined, bent corners to mark a page, creased and torn covers.

  8. IntimacyThere’s just

    There’s just something intimate about holding a book in your hands, feeling the pages as you turn them, flipping back to read that paragraph or sentence ‘just one more time’ before moving on. That feeling of savouring the end, then clasping the book itself to your chest as you sigh in contentment.

    When I was a librarian, I remember relishing every single paper-cut, the dry chapped hands from packing and unpacking new shipments, the feel & the smell of books. I loved the fact that I had touched every single one of them sitting on the shelves. I could have happily slept on a pile of them! (this is sort of what I was refering to a while back Bill, the oddness of librarians)

    I have all kinds of dictionary programs, and links to various online ones, but my best buddy still is my battered, stained, dog-eared Roget’s Thuper Thesaurus! 😉

    So yeah, what I love best about books in just two words is…the intimacy.

  9. Woe to the proletariatesOne
    Woe to the proletariates

    One time I was reading in class and someone asked me
    “You read? Like, without being forced to?”

    and I said “yes” and smiled

    I thought to myself.
    You will never know my joy.

  10. My particular favorite cover
    My particular favorite cover of the re-released Penguin Classics that are utilizing graphic design artists is Candide.

    I know exactly what all of you are talking about, the utter joy of holding an actual book in your hands. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of libraries, I think the idea’s grand for people who can’t afford to buy books or to search out old, out-of-print books, but I can’t help buying books. It’s the reason I work at a bookstore and even within that bookstore spend more money than anyone else on books.

    My one thing, however, is that I wish I could be one of those people to underline and write and leave notes in books. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’ve even bought multiple copies of the same book so that I have a “backup” that I can mark and dog-ear but guess what? I never do. Alas, it might be an OCD thing that I have or it might also be the fact that in some small way I guess I’m telling myself that I hope this fantastic library that I’m accumulating will someday go to my kids and I hope to deliver it into their hands in the best possible condition. Maybe that’s being a bit unrealistic, but whatever.

    Also does anyone else realize how utterly different trade paper covers are to their hardcover compatriots in terms of aesthetics? I like trade paperbacks because they’re not as small as mass markets and also usually they’re way, way better looking than hardcovers. Also they’re less cumbersome than hardcovers. Penguin does a great job on their covers as well as Vintage and Picador. I always wondered why it seemed like when a book goes to trade the visual design company puts more emphasis on the aesthetics of the book. Maybe it’s just me. Also who doesn’t love the pages of a book when they’re rough cut in that certain way [don’t know the actual terminology]?

  11. My book sanctuary is the
    My book sanctuary is the Chapters book store in my suburban city’s centrum. There is a starbucks connected to it in which the baristas know me well and sometimes give me discounts or free drinks. They are very lovely people. There is an evil store manager who does not like the fact that I usually snatch a book from a shelf, buy a grande mocha frappacino and sit in starbucks and read for hours. He is a very mean man. Fortunately, he only works on wednsdays. I will scowl at people browsing the non-fiction self help books or buying scented candles because I believe them to be cheap and in bad taste. I know this is mean of me. I don’t much mind that. Trips to Chapters always calm me down.

    Thank you for sharing stories of your book sancutaries. They sound very lovely.

  12. God Save The Readers!If I
    God Save The Readers!

    If I didn’t respond to this, I’d consider myself a tool.

    How can I explain to a non-reader the unbelievable warm feeling I get from reading? Years ago, I had the typical young person’s view of books: I only read them if they were assigned. But over the years, I have been drawn to their addictive vibe. I once thought it sacrilegious to write on them, thinking that somehow it was disrepecting the written word. Now, I pay my books the highest compliment of being worn out, smudged, handled, touched, smelled, & written on. I love quoting them. I love burying myself in them. It reminds me of that fuzzy feel you get when you wear your favorite sweater or when someone sends you a postcard or a *gasp* letter longer than a half-page.

    You see, there’s just something nostalgic, beautiful and retro-awesome (I know this is a made up word-I created it, patent-pending) about reading and writing and connecting and joining the freakin’ human race! Every feeling I’ve ever had right in front of me–in print–making me feel a little less weird, a little less stressed, and all the more validated.

    My fave reads aren’t always the Beats (even though, how could I resist their earthy “mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful” charms?). No, it’s Shakespeare. Still.

    So love what you read and live what you love. It’s tasty and oh-so-good for you! Yumilicious.

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