Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Salon: Choices

Here I sit at my computer, wondering what to write. I thought of going off on a rant today, talking about an annoying bit of book snobbery I encountered recently, but I do not feel like it. It is such a lovely day outside and my mood is relatively high. There is no point in getting myself worked up just now.

My husband and I ventured out to the movie theater yesterday, after a leisurely lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. We settled on seeing There Will Be Blood, a movie neither one of us was particularly excited about, but with all the Oscar buzz and the talk around town that it was a must see movie, we could not resist. The movie is based on the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair, a novel and author I have never read. While our stop at the bookstore after the movie did not find me searching out the book, it may be one I look into reading at some point in the future.

I did not feel so bad when I discovered that I was not the only one laughing at the end of the film as the credits started to roll. I am not sure that was the most appropriate reaction to have, but I could not help myself. I was not certain if I liked the movie or not yesterday, but today I am pretty sure I did. It certainly was different.

Moving on to the actual topic for today, I would like to start by posing a question to you. After reading a powerful or especially moving book that not only has you thinking but feeling strong emotions too, how do you choose that next book to read? In instances like this, is it better to pick up something light and funny (or perhaps light and suspenseful) to offset the seriousness of the book just finished? You know, to lighten the mood. Or is it better to continue along a similar line?

I was faced with this very quandary earlier this week after reading Daoud Hari's The Translator. I did not pick up another book to read right away. In fact, I did not read anything the day after I finished the book. I was reluctant to pick up another book to read right away.

Feeling obligated to work my way through several books I have sitting on my desk that I have committed to reading and reviewing, I decided to limit my selection to choosing one of those, limiting my choices considerably. I nearly picked up A Grave in Gaza by Matthew Rees because, while it is a completely different type of book altogether, it still appears as if it will not be quite as light or free of politics as some other books on my immediate shelf might be.

As I often do in situations like this, however, I instead went with Blood Poison by D.H. Dublin. It looked like it would be a fast paced suspense novel, something different and on the lighter side. Unfortunately though, being the follow-up to a book like The Translator is bound to have some repercussions. And it has.

I think it might have been wiser to stay with the momentum of the first book and ridden it out until I craved something different. However, as I sometimes do in situations like this, I jump ahead and force myself into doing something before I am ready because I can see where it will lead eventually. I over think the situation and end skipping lunch because I am thinking only of supper. That isn't to say that reading something lighter or less serious after the more serious book is not appropriate. There are times when it most certainly is. But there are also times when it is not. I am still learning the difference between the two when it comes to my own reading.


  1. I too thought carefully about which book to read after The Translator. I settled on Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo because I felt like it would take a while to get into this hefty book, and in that process, my brain would switch gears. So far, so good.


  2. I have not read Oil but I have read Arrowsmith, which I liked. It is a quite prescient account of science research and commercial pressures, the story of an idealistic young scientist who gradually becomes disillusioned as he moves through various types of employment. The story was apparently based on a real scientist, but I've forgotten who -- Jonas Salk, maybe.

  3. I usually jump into something totally different which usually works for me. Then again, I always have about four books going at once, so I think that may help.

  4. Very interesting. I started posting a comment but it became too long, so I'll write a post at my own blog, linking back to yours. :-)

  5. I usually just pick up whatever is calling me after reading a powerful book and it works; however, there have been a few times that I have waited a day just to bask in the feelings. Also, there has been a time or two after reading a new choice that I was ever so thankful that it was fluffier - it gave my brain a break, but I usually do not choose a fluff book on purpose. The contrast is too VAST and it tends to set the fluff up for failure.

  6. I really appreciate variety in what I read, so I will move onto something quite different. Sometimes it's a mental palate cleanser like an easy crime fiction novel, or else it may just be something with a different pace - a family story, or a biography. But I like to keep switching literary landscapes - for me it keeps the reading fresh.

  7. Oh that's a good question... For the most part I tend to go with a different type of book. Especially if I've read something emotionally exhausting then I really need something light. I want to see There Will Be Blood but I feel like I have to be in the mood for that kind of film and I just haven't been.

  8. I know exactly what you mean about the time period following a very powerful book. It's tough. I find myself walking around the house picking up one book and then setting it down and then another and....

    So, sometimes I just don't read for a day or so. Magazines sometimes work and I am usually behind on the few that I still receive. Sometimes a movie or some TV shows that we have recorded and not watched. Sometimes, I just have to "not read" (horrors!) for a bit and then something will picque my interest and I'm off again.

    I liked the "cleansing palate" analogy that litlove used above. LOL

  9. Interesting question... I think I'd go with a different type of book just for a change. Then again, there were times that I continued with the same kind of books because I found the topic so interesting/intriguing! I think my reading mood says a lot under this situation. ;)

  10. Well, now I'm curious to hear about the literary snobbishness!

    I have the same need to clean my palate. I'll usually jump around, from page-turner to some slow fiction, or to non-fiction. And if I read a book I really love it's hard to start right away on a new one.

  11. I want to hear the rant about book snobbery too. I myself am occasionally guilty of it, even though I'll read practically anything. I just tend not to remember that at times....whoops.

    As for the next book after a truly fabulous one? I do what Kay does, pick up one after another setting each one down until finally I find one I can read all the way through.

    Kookiejar at A Fraternity of Dreamers loved Oil. I understand that the book and the movie are pretty peripheral to each other so you might enjoy the book more than you expect.

  12. I agree with the palate-cleansing philosophy, but after a particularly affecting book, I generally do wait a bit (well, maybe a day) before I start reading whatever change-of-pace book I've chosen.

    Thanks for the comments about There Will Be Blood. I've been pretty ambivalent about seeing it, so it's nice to know your thoughts.

  13. I am having a tough time choosing what to read also. I think that I am going to choose another of the ARCs that I have here. I am hoping for a light read.

  14. Jill - I am looking forward to reading Bridge of Sighs (once it comes out in paperback). I can see why you would select Richard Russo to keep you company after finishing The Translator.

    Maxine - I admit that reading something by Sinclair had never crossed my mind until a friend reviewed the book Oil! but even then I wasn't sure. I'm most familiar with the author for his title Jungle. I'll have to look for Arrowsmith. It sounds intriguing.

    Renee - I tend to prefer one book at a time, maybe two at the most. I've tried reading more than that at once and it never works out well for me. Once I become engrossed in a book, I tend to stick with it straight to the end and any interruptions are unwelcome.

    Trish - I look forward to reading your thoughts!

    Joy - Unfortunately for me, several books end up calling me at once and it's difficult for me to decide which way to go. Haha

    I think you make a good point about the contrast between the two types of book and jumping from one to the other. Sometimes it does work for me, but other times it doesn't. I imagine when it doesn't, it's for just that reason.

    Litlove - I do too. Admittingly, I'm going through a crime fiction phase right now and so the variety is in what types of books in that genre I'm reading, but even so, I still like to mix things up. It's saved me time and time again from burn out of one type of book. I like your analogy of cleansing the palate!

    Iliana - And here I was worried that I wasn't able to think of anything to write about today! After moving along further in the day, I do think I made the right choice--choosing something lighter. Still, I wonder sometimes if maintaining the momentum of the other book might not be worthwhile too.

    I'd be curious to know what you think of There Will Be Blood if you do decide to see it. It definitely is one of those movies to see when you are in the "right" frame of mind.

    Kay - Exactly! I do that too. I should have thought of breaking into my magazines though. Goodness knows I have plenty around here for just such times.

    Melody - It's when I second guess my reading mood that I get into trouble, I think. :-)

    Debra - I'll save the literary snobbishness for another day. :-)

    Jumping around from different types of book to another usually does work will for me. It's always especially difficult though after an especially powerful book.

    Carrie - Haha I'm guilty too, even though I don't always want to admit it. :-)

    Yes, she's the one who pushed me over the edge into seeing the movie. I probably will check out the book. It may be one of those that I enjoy more having seen the movie first.

    Florinda - It's hard to wait longer, isn't it? I always feel like I have to have a book going.

    I think There Will Be Blood is one of those movies that will speak to some people but perhaps not to most. It's definitely different and not at all what I expected.

  15. Amy - That's the way I went too. I think it's finally working. :-)

  16. After I finished The Book Thief I couldn't pick up another book for quite a while. I just wanted to talk about it endlessly with others who'd read it. When I finally picked up another book it was something very light and humourous.

  17. After a book that has moved me as powerfully as this has clearly moved you, I would normally pick up a volume of letters or a journal, something where I didn't have to get involved in a full length story (whether fact or fiction) until I had put some space between what had involved me so much and the next fully developed narrative.

  18. I know what you mean about needing some space after finishing a powerful book and then not knowing what to choose to follow it. Most of the time I probably do read something lighter afterwards but I think it's a case where if you're up to it, carrying on in the same vein might be rewarding. I really should pick up Beloved next, a challenge read, but I'm shying away from it after the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. I'm craving something not too deep or tragic. The Bleeding Dusk was a very fun diversion last week for exactly that reason.

  19. Oh do tell about the book snobbery! Sounds intriguing. Yes, sometimes after a powerful book I like to take a day or two to think about it and then I usually go for something light, or at least another genre for my next.

    I saw There Will Be Blood and was very impressed. My husband was also so I picked up Oil! for him a few days later.

  20. Table Talk - That's a good idea. Maybe even a book of short stories might do the trick as well.

    Tanabata - I can see why you are craving something lighter after reading Tale of Two Cities. And I'm glad I'm not alone in my dilemma. :-)

    Jaimie - I probably will pick up a copy of Oil! I can't help myself. :-)

  21. After reading The Book Thief, I definitely felt the need to read soemthing far less serious and familiar. Something I knew wouldn't make me cry or dwell on questions I don't have the ability to answer.


  22. This is such an interesting question, and one that often troubles me as well, particularly after reading any book that I've really loved (whether it's serious or not!) I often find myself terribly disatisfied with whatever I pick up first. I have discovered that for me, it must be of similar literary "weight" - it's no use following ups something wonderful with fluff of anykind.

    An enjoyable and interesting discussion!

  23. I think I'll wait to see There Will Be Blood when it comes out on DVD. I have heard lots of good things about it though.

    When I read a really powerful or depressing book (which is the reason I can't read anything by Jodi Picoult again) sometimes I can't choose the next book to read and I'm in a major book slump for awhile. Other times I just go completely in another direction and lighten the mood with a fluffy romance or maybe a cozy mystery.

  24. I think I shared your reaction. I say "think" because I'm still not sure what I thought of "There Will Be Blood." It was very impressive and Daniel Day Lewis seems masterful. I, too, laughed a lot at the horror. My husband loved it. I felt a bit bludgeoned by it. Not sure that's bad, but I found much more to connect to, emotionally in earlier PT Anderson (esp. "boogie Nights") and in fellow Oscar contender/villain protagonist "No Country for Old Men," both of which I would recommend without reservation. - Clea

  25. Your post is relevant to me for a couple different reasons, as you can well imagine.

    I've seen "There Will Be Blood" three times now (I went this weekend too) and I can understand why someone might laugh at Eli's over the top antics, but...the end? The very end? To me that was like a punch in the face...and continues to be even after the third time.

    "Oil!" was one of those books you were talking about. Weighty. Important. And utterly devestating to me. It took Joe Hill's book of short stories to pull me out of my slump.

    By the Way, if you are in any way ambivalent about the movie, skip the book, I guarantee you won't like far no one but me does. I don't know why.

  26. CJ - That's what usually works for me too.

    Ravenousreader - That's a very good point. If it's an especially well written book, anything that comes after will be a disappointment unless it's right up there too.

    Jen - I think it would make a good movie to watch at home. :-)

    Clea - Daniel Day Lewis certainly was wonderful in the film, and I can see why he's up for an Oscar. Magnolia is one of my husband's favorite movies, and I enjoyed it too. You never know quite what to expect with Anderson.

    I haven't yet seen "No Country For Old Men." I've been avoiding that one, but I'm not sure why exactly.

    Kookie - I think my laughter was more of a "What the hell?" type. It was just so unexpected and out there that the laughter just bubbled up to the surface. I do that sometimes, laugh at inappropriate moments. I blame my job where having a black sense of humor comes with the territory.

  27. I have been so curious about THERE WILL BE BLOOD. I just can't bring myself to see it. I'm sure it's good but it sounds like it would be quite an ordeal to watch it.

  28. That's a tricky one. I usually can't stand to start another book for at least a day or two if a book is really amazing, powerful, moving . . . something that I feel needs to settle for a day or two, I guess. And, then, it's just a matter of whatever grabs me. There have been times I've flipped through and/or begun a dozen books before finding one that grabs me, after a particularly terrific read.

  29. I had this problem recently when I finished reading Ysabel, which ended up being mythically more moving than I thought. It's fantasy - celtic myth/modern world blend. I've ended up reading something completely different, non-fiction, and I did this on purpose. I wanted to hold onto the feeling Ysabel gave me - let it sit in me for a while, but I wanted to start reading something else, but something that wouldn't distract me from what I am percolating. I'm not sure if that will make sense to you! The Canadian Settler's Handbook is very different! and I can enjoy it while at the same time, it is not engaging the part of me that is turning over Ysabel, inside me. I wonder if this is how books affect all of us who read. I think it is, from the other comments on your page. I look forward to what you think. Thanks!

  30. After reading a really heavy book, I often take a break for a couple of days and/or pick up something that's much lighter---a thriller, horror novel, etc.---something meant to simply be enjoyed rather than thought about.

  31. I'm not sure if my answer applies correctly, but yeah, when I read a book that I find astonishingly good and to where it leaves a huge impact on me, it's hard for me to recover for another book. I'm itching for one just as good and try to find it, but all books afterward disappoint for awhile. Silly eh? Hopefully I'm not alone in that boat and you know what I'm saying.

  32. Your comments about There Will Be Blood have me very intrigued!

    I have lots to say about choosing "next" books, but I'm guessing it's probably already been said. :) Hope the reading gets better. And what happened to War and Peace??? Did I miss something?

  33. I usually balance out with a lighter fare, something that won't require a lot of reflection and back-tracking. Now that I have decided to read more non-fiction, I'll probably insert some non-fiction in between fiction.

  34. I'm currently adopting the strategy of reading light chick-flicks (as you can see on my latest post featuring mostly "Little Black Dress" books) as an in-between my heavy-duty reading for studies. Oh yes, I broke my own no book-buying campaign... *hangs head down in shame*

  35. Amy - Several days later, my opinion of the movie keeps rising. It certainly is different and I can see how it wouldn't be for everyone.

    Nancy - It is hard to start another book right away sometimes and other times I feel like I need to jump right into the next one.

    I often will look through several books before starting one, but I haven't really made a habit of actually starting them all in the process of finding what I will read next. I might try that.

    Susan - I hope to get to Ysabel one day. It sounds so good!

    I do understand what you are saying and sometimes that happens to me too, even unintentionally. Some books linger on for quite a while. I think part of the need to read something completely different after may play a part in not wanting to take away from that initial book.

    Heather - Thrillers are so good for those in between times (and other times too), aren't they?

    Erin - I don't think it's silly at all--or else I'm silly too. After an especially good book, what comes next sometimes does disappoint me too. Nothing quite compares. :-)

    Trish - I could probably go one for days about this topic!

    Oh, and you had to ask about War and Peace. I was hoping no one would notice that I haven't mentioned it in awhile. LOL It's sitting on my shelf waiting patiently as I put off picking it up in favor of other books. I think I'm going to have to just accept that now is not the time for Tolstoy. I think he'll understand.

    Matt - I think that's a good idea. I don't read nearly enough nonfiction, but my intentions are always good. Unfortunately intentions mean nothing when the words are just air.

    Alice - Uh oh! I don't have a no book-buying rule, but I am trying to cut back. It hasn't happened yet. Haha We're so bad, Alice.


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