In a recent job interview, one of the committee members asked me: “What have you read lately—that doesn’t have to do with rhetoric or composition?” I answered honestly, even though I recognized the dilemma inherent in the question. If I admit to reading books for pleasure, that might leave the impression that I’m not dedicated to finishing my dissertation. If I don’t, I might appear to be somewhat narrow and, dare I say it, dull. Everyone knows that person who’s singularly focused on her or his own work and is therefore prone to stultify otherwise interesting conversations.
So, I went for broke and talked briefly about two books I’ve read recently: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Megan Marshall’s AMAZING biography The Peabody Sisters. I highly recommend both, for what it’s worth.
What I didn’t tell the committee is exactly how much outside reading I do. I’m in a book club—a dirty little secret for someone who’s ABD–and I’m forever hearing about (and sometimes succumbing to) tempting new publications.
(Follow me a minute more as I make this turn…)
I was in the library on Wednesday, on the third floor where the British and American literature is held, and I remembered that I wanted to borrow my next book club book (Atonement, Ian McEwan) rather than buy it. I’ve been lately trying to stop buying fiction that is easily available at the library. Anyway, I started browsing the PRs and PSs (yes, I know the call numbers, and yes, I know this fact cements my status as a total nerd.) and on the way my eye caught the title Arrowsmith, a novel by Sinclair Lewis that won the 1926 Pulitzer. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long, long time. I loved Main Street, and I loved Babbitt even more. Needless to say, I haven’t been disappointed by Arrowsmith—I can’t put it down.
This morning in the shower I was reflecting on the series of events that brought me to the book. While I did not set out to find the book, I was delighted to be reminded of it while browsing the stacks. I only hesitated a second before grabbing it and continuing my search for Atonement, rationalizing that I could burn through two books just as easily as one. Several questions emerged in the middle of these thoughts, none of which have answers.
Has the new electronic catalog system (as opposed to card catalogs) impeded our ability to browse? In some card catalogs, the books were arranged in the order in which they appeared in groups on the shelf, so as you were looking for one book, you might stumble upon others of interest.
Has our “drive-thru” lifestyle (or what Russell and I call “in out nobody hurt”) obliterated our willingness to spend more than 1o minutes searching for a book? (Full disclosure: ordinarily, I would have used the library catalog to find the exact call number to retrieve Atonement but I was too lazy to go down and up three flights of stairs to the computers so I browsed.)
Do people even check books out from the library anymore? Does anyone read anything besides Oprah’s book club choice, conveniently available at Barnes and Noble?
Okay, back to the ten thousand letters of recommendation I agreed to write. Oy.