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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

My Book Pile

My Pile

No Waste of Space
By Liliane Clever
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
I grew up being told not to waste anything. From the food on my plate to my school supplies, waste was a deadly sin subject to frowns and endless lecturing from my parents. This juvenile vestige has stayed with me through my adult life. I am not really thrifty. I can be as impulsive as anyone, but I do try to remain careful, and I hate to waste.

Lately I have been in a midst of a dilemma. Things sort of piled up on me. Specifically, books. More specifically, books I-purchased-at-Borders-during-its-going-out-of-business-sale-in-Philadelphia piled up on me.

At first I had a plan. Afraid that titles from some of my favourite authors would fly off the shelves, I went to the store on Broad Street as soon as the ‘Up to 20% off’ signs were posted in the windows. I was only partially successful. It had been some time since Borders had received any new shipments and replenished its inventory.

I am not an absolute devotee of any particular author so there is always at least one title I have not read. The last time I could claim reading an author’s entire body of work was in my late teens to early twenties when I discovered the writings of Simone de Beauvoir and read every word of it. This included some pretty arduous bits, and I can’t say that I was mature enough to understand it all.

I am a lot less enthusiastic these days, and my attention span is much shorter. I expect a book to grip me by the end of its first chapter. I am not an intellectual. I read mostly fiction and I read for pleasure. I simply want to escape in the next one hundred-plus pages and be entertained.

On my next visit to Borders, as soon as the ‘Up to 40% off’ signs appeared, I looked for authors I had encountered at least once and had enjoyed. It was more difficult as there were fewer books available, but I managed to go home with a bag full.

I simply had to go back at 60 percent off. The shelves were already pretty bare, and the books no longer in alphabetical order. I was impressed by the remaining staff trying to straighten things out. Hard to believe that they would still care. The only way to tackle this was to go through the entire fiction section one book at a time. The picking was even more difficult but I took a chance on authors whose names rang a bell or titles that might have been recommended by a friend at one time.

I had told myself that this was it. I had two fairly high piles of books on my bedroom floor waiting to be read. But somehow I found myself looking through almost empty and quite dusty shelves at Borders unable to resist the huge yellow 80 percent off signs in the windows.

If Borders were willing to ‘give things away,’ how could I go wrong? And surely nobody could accuse me of wasting money. By then the second level had been closed off and all remaining items were crammed together downstairs.

It was actually quite depressing. I grabbed any book that looked promising based on one liner reviews on the covers and a quick scan of opening paragraphs. A system quite flawed indeed that led mostly to one-book-wonders. But why not give them a try? I went home and started a third pile.

My first read from the piles was an easy pick: Mary Lawson’s The Other Side of the Bridge. I had been looking forward to it ever since I spotted it on the shelves. I read Crow Lake several years ago, and absolutely loved it. My high expectations were not disappointed. The Other Side of the Bridge is a beautiful book and a sheer pleasure to read. I highly recommend it.

I knew that Lawson would be a tough act to follow. With her characters still floating in my head, I picked Beautiful as Yesterday by Fan Wu from my 80 percent off pile. One of my so-called freebies. The cover boasts an endorsement from Amy Tan. I always enjoy Amy Tan’s books. But Fan Wu is no Amy Tan. The book is awkwardly written and the story line uninspiring. What was Amy Tan thinking about? I felt betrayed. I forced myself to finish the book just as I finished the food on my plate years ago.

I have since become suspicious of my third pile. I wonder what other disappointing book is waiting in there for me. But surely, I cannot allow any of these books to go to waste. Eventually I will need to decide on the biggest waste: The money I spent on the book, or the time I spend reading it. Hence the dilemma I mentioned earlier.

It is random positive reinforcement that keeps me going. My second pile revealed two very nice surprises: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Both debut novels are well crafted with story lines that kept me wanting to read on. I recommend these novels as well.

I still have many books to go through. I plan to give each book an honest try. Books that fail to grab my interest will be donated. They may turn out to be somebody else’s cup of tea. As I often do, books I enjoyed will be shared with friends, passed around. Books that I love will be shelved in my home, at least for a while, ready for a possible reread.

Maybe, just maybe, none of the books will go to waste.