First of all, my race report: same as last week, basically. Yay! We rode 24 miles and finished in about 55 minutes; I stayed with the pack the entire time and finished somewhere in the middle. I do have things I want to work on (like staying closer to the front of the pack), but that’s the kind of finish I’m very happy with these days.
But I entitled this post “choosing a book” because I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoyed Denis Johnson’s story collection Jesus’ Son and how surprising that might seem because it’s so different from what I usually read. I picked it up because of a friend’s recommendation, but this isn’t a friend I always agree with when it comes to books, and I got the recommendation a long time ago, and I’m not sure why it stuck with me. And I had no idea why this friend recommended it and what the book was about when I bought it. So these weren’t the most auspicious circumstances.
But it makes me think I should choose books in this almost random kind of way a little more often — to take more risks. It’s so easy to make judgments about what a book will be like and whether I will like it or not, based on criteria like what the book looks like, what I’ve heard about it through the media, things I know about the author. But it’s such a pleasure to be surprised, isn’t it? To find out that the book is nothing like what we thought? Or that if it is like what we thought, that we’re surprised by how much we like it?
Here are some of my recent choices, some typical of what I usually read, some not: I finished Anita Brookner’s Leaving Home recently, and I hope to post on it soon — this is fairly typical of what I turn to frequently — contemporary fiction, thoughtful, character-driven, about ideas. I just began Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, which is a bit of a departure, although not a huge one — mainly it’s a departure because it’s not British or American, and it’s made up of novellas and stories, when I usually choose novels. I also received A.J.A. Symons The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography in the mail today through Bookmooch; this is even more of a departure because I have no idea who A.J.A. Symons is, no idea who Corvo is, and little idea what is meant by “an experiment in biography.” But I read about it in a Michael Dirda book and was intrigued, and, although I have little idea when I’ll actually pick it up, I’m excited about it.
I suppose there’s no sure-fire way to make surprises like Jesus’ Son happen more frequently, except to stay open to suggestions from unusual places and to try to develop courage as a reader.
Oh, and one more thing: if you’re a participant in the Slaves of Golconda book group (or want to be one — new readers are always welcome!), check out Imani’s choices for the next book and vote on what you’d like to read. She’s got some great possibilities.