Do You Have a System?

Paul recently commented after reading my latest Monthly Reading Pool:

I have challenged myself to read a book from each shelf in the fiction section. … My goal is to pick at least one book from each shelf, and to do 2 shelves each trip (that way I can still get books on my regular reading list). … There are some obvious flaws in my plan (the library devotes 6 complete shelves to James Patterson).


Now I have exposed various systems for selecting my monthly reading list through the years, most recently various schemes to transfer my reading from paper and ink books to digital reading with easier to read font sizes. I have also forced the inclusion of a few “real” books in an effort to reduce the large numbers of books I had to move and find bookshelves for at my new home.

Notice that these systems are mostly concerned with storage space, failing eyesight, and the inevitable onset of death.

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A Month of Reading Dangerously

images-1.jpgI notice that I am almost always automatically drawn to novels from other lands and other cultures .. or at least novels written by authors with foreign sounding names promising me new experiences from unfamiliar people and unfamiliar places. Sometimes this tendency lets me down but more often it helps keep my reading fresh and interesting.

Then there are the novels that re-submerge me into a geographical area or lifestyle that despite a been-there-done-that undertone allows me a very satisfying sub-text  where I might even have been the model for the hero of the book. Some novels are like maps to the stars where you are the star and your early life is the stage. Generally I identify with anything referencing Southern California in the 1960s and all of Philip Roth’s novels.

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More Bears

w204While reading Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear I was immediately reminded on another recent read: The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle. Both stories involve bears which step into very human roles or interact with humans in a very human manner, but Kotzwinkle’s novel is much funnier.

in both novels the bear is involved with writing: in one the bear actually writes its memoirs but in the other a bear in the wild finds another writer’s work hidden under a tree and passes it off as his (its?) own.

Except for involvement with conferences in the early part of Memoirs, the polar bears in Tawada’s novel tend to be in realistic environments for a bear: zoos and circuses. However, in Kotzwinkle’s novel the bear is accepted into human society, dresses in custom suits, dines in fine restaurants, sits in on late-night talk shows, and even has an affair with his publicist. Although it’s all very unbear-like, the bear still recognizes the inherent difficulties of being a bear in Manhattan (like fitting into pret-à-porte)..

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a serious work, albeit flawed; The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a lot of fun and possibly much better written. Read them both and make sure you put both authors on your near-future reading list.

We’re All Mammals

download.jpgMemoirs of a Polar Bear by Japanese/German author Yoko Tawada is a study into both what it is to be human and also into the often strained relationships between humans and other mammals. It narrates the history (memoirs?) of three generations of polar bears and the humans they interact with, whether in the circus, at the zoo, or at an international conference. The polar bears themselves are at one time creatures of the great northern wilds and at another time balancing on a large blue ball and even, without any anthropomorphic explanation, excelling at a corporate “desk” job and attending important conferences around the world.

Who knew that a polar bear could write a best-seller based on memoirs from the circus?

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