Finding and finishing thought-provoking books

This week I kept coming across lists of discarded books; books that many people either claim to have read but haven’t, or books that readers simply give up on. See Goodreads’ “Most Read But Unfinished” list and i09 posted this week “10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read”.

When someone starts a book but doesn’t finish it, the book is usually too daunting or requires too much effort. i09’s science fiction list focuses on a lot of titles in this category. People want to read something, but they’ve heard everyone talk about it so much they can fake it. Or they just go see the movie. The user-generated Goodreads’ list is an interesting bag of titles, but it includes such classics as Anna KareninaPride and Prejudice, and Moby Dick. It also includes several on my own unfinished list: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Atlas Shrugged, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Does this mean that our reading spectrum is moving toward mediocre? If the classics and other thought-provoking reads require too much effort, are our favorite books somewhere in the Target aisle?

It’s hard to pinpoint where bookworms’ tastes lie, but even my own choices have been of the middle-of-the-road variety lately. Although I started The Brothers Karamazov this year, I have yet to finish it, or even make it halfway. The writing is enjoyable, the story compelling and really, it’s right up my alley. I just need to make the leap over the length and language. Over the last few months, the only classic I can really claim to have finished is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first short story collection centering around that insufferable, arrogant man who happens to be a brilliant detective of the people, Sherlock Holmes.

While it may be easy to blame the publishing industry for pushing books like 50 Shades of Grey underneath our pillows, for better or for worse, they give us more of what we buy. (And we bought more than 20 million copies of 50 SoG). So unless there’s a Will McAvoy of publishing out there willing to put all his energy behind publishing books that are good for us to read whether it sells or not, it’s up to us as consumers to a make an effort.

When I’m looking for something good, I read reviews in the local newspaper and my favorite magazines, or check out Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness for upcoming book releases and reviews. I go to specific publisher sites, and see what’s included in their latest catalogues. For suggestions a little bit outside the NYC publishing center, I read Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin on Poets&Writers. I challenge the bookworms out there to read something a little beyond their normal reach. After my own search, I decided to go with True Believers by Kurt Anderson, which I found on Shelf Awareness.

True Believers

True Believers by Kurt Anderson

A judge turns down a chance at joining the Surpreme Court, knowing that her adventures in the 1960s will come to light in the process. Instead she decides to write a memoir that will reveal the shocking secret about her past. The book jumps back and forth between the 60s and the present, which the Mad Men fan in me can’t help but get excited about, but it also covers a lot of Cold War political history, which is a little outside my comfort zone. Dubbed a mystery and a coming-of-age story, it’s also a cultural and political commentary with a powerful female heroine. I’m hoping for more than entertainment. I’m hoping that it will make me think.

Of course the key to choosing a challenging read is to finish it! Check back for a review on True Believers (and possibly  The Brothers Karamazov) once I’m finished.

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Of boys and pirates

I recently picked up the newly released Chronicles of Egg: Deadweather and Sunrise, the first book in the trilogy. And I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but honestly, it was the cover that pulled me in. How could any adventure-book lover resist? A precariously placed castle, a PIRATE SHIP!, and two kids, heading into the thick of it all.

And unlike some wine labels that have led me astray, this cover does not disappoint. Book-loving Egbert, with two dim-witted siblings who seem to have fallen straight from a Roald Dahl story, is just the curious underdog to take on the whirlwind of activity about to befall him.

Egg’s friendly manner toward pirates and his interest in adventure reminded me of another boy character, Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island. It’s true, the book was published more than a century ago, but some things, like pirates and curious young boys, never change. Jim is the kind confidante to Billy Bones, an old pirate always carrying on about who’s out to get him and what he plans to do when they find him at Jim’s family’s lodging house. Jim isn’t sure he believes him, but much like Egg, he loves a good story. And when the buccaneers show up firing pistols and plotting attacks, Billy Bones dies and Jim is left with a treasure map and an adventure.

I only got around to reading this pirate classic by Robert Louis Stevenson a few months ago. My subway commute is a bit lengthy and I was in between novels, but that little treasure (pun intended) was on my e-reader — one of many free books I had downloaded when I first starting browsing Ebook stores. Consider it your primer in all things about boys and pirates. It debuted Long John Silver’s appearance in our culture and even popularized the treasure map.

Although Chronicles of Egg may allude to its pirate story predecessor, it has many things that Treasure Island does not. A feisty female comrade, for one. In my book, that alone makes it worth reading.