Knit the Dog

[...because if I ever run out of yarn--- I can just knit the dogs.]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eaten any good books lately?

My husband and I are both readers. Big time. For Phil this means starting the day with the local newsrag, reading a little in the evening, and dropping off to sleep with a book in hand. He gets his books from the library, an eclectic mix of nonfiction, murder mysteries (Walter Mosely, Harlan Coben) and weird contemporary novels. He also reads Atlantic Monthly, a few woodworking magazines, and the New Yorker when he's on the road. I drink my coffee with the New York Times online, then during the day read from two or three novels-- science fiction or historical romance-- along with blogs, science stuff on the internet, Newsweek, etc.
Here comes the confession: we both read while we eat. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. At the table. With each other. In fact we can hardly consume a meal without books at hand, unless we go out or have company. We even have book weights to hold the books open while we eat. When my daughter was growing up, of course, books were verboten at the table-- one had conversation. This fell apart after Andrea went to college. You can't really talk with your mouth full, and we really have lots of other time together. I come by this addiction honestly. When I was growing up, although when Dad was present there was no reading at table [and no hair curlers or pajamas], whenever Dad had a meeting in the evening my Mom and I had the guilty pleasure of reading while we ate our Swanson TV Dinners. Phil's Mom spent several years driving the local bookmobile, so he had it in his genes too.
I was a bookish, geeky kid with knobby knees and red braids, and way too big a vocabulary for social success. I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a time when summers were hot, sticky and endless. The library was the first building in town to get air conditioning, closely followed by the drug store a block from our house, which had a whole wall of comics. We knew the store owner, and he'd let me sit on the floor by the comics and read for hours as long as I didn't wrinkle them and occasionally bought some Neccos or a Skybar. In fifth grade I incurred the wrath of Sister Infanta by hiding a novel inside my math book. Every night I read by the light seeping through the door of my bedroom from the 40 watt bulb in the hallway, until I heard my parents on the stairs and whipped the book under my pillow. The library folks gave up on keeping me out of the "grownup" section when I was twelve, and discovered Robert Heinlein. In fact my first paying job at fourteen was shelving books, for 75 cents an hour.
I approached reading like playing piano and learning French; by ear, and with as little honest labor as possible (to this day I know only present tense French verbs and can't read music.) This meant reading the Comics Classic version of weighty stuff like the Scarlet Letter, Red Badge of Courage, and anything by Charles Dickens so there would be more time for the Black Stallion series or whatever I was obsessed with that year.
I still go on author binges; when I find somebody I like I have to read everything they wrote until I overdose. In my early knitter days, all of two years ago, this meant scarfing down all the Yarn Harlot books and every knitting magazine at Borders. I'm more selective now; if there's not at least two patterns I would really knit the mag stays on the shelf. But a few weeks ago I discovered Georgette Heyer. I'm sunk. All her novels seem to have been reissued in larger format softcovers that cost twice the price of a regular paperback, the used book store hasn't got any of them, I can't wait for Amazon, and I'm deeply addicted. I've stopped buying yarn and lattes in order to get these books. It's not that they are great literature-- far from it; she wrote about 40 historical romances, mostly Regencies, in the 30's and 40's. But the characters, especially the women, are finely drawn and fresh, people you just want to sit down with. Her writing is funny, brisk, and full of plot, and for those who happen to love this period, wickedly accurate (if awfully heavy on exclamation points.) And, best of all, you don't have to flip through pages of breathless sex to get to the good parts. I have nothing against a little steaminess where it's warranted, but could we get on with the story already? There are after all only so many ways to Do It, and at my age I already know most of them, so the repetition just gets in my way. Sexual tension is not, after all, a plot, for cryin' out loud. So, if you like the genre, by all means try one of these refreshing stories.
Thank heaven people keep writing books and publishers keep printing them, or I'd be reduced to chewing my fingernails in withdrawal. And if you have to have a vice, this is pretty benign--- it's not like I'm collecting hundreds of salt shakers or swigging rum-- and it's still legal!

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