I was looking through all my books the other day, and I realized that I could neatly separate them out into three categories. Normally generalizations like this don't work, but without a doubt every book I owned fell neatly into one of these three categories:

Books that are read for content:
    These are the dusty books in my bookshelf. They are the unloved books, the ones that were read once. Often for a class, they were quickly skimmed through so that I could obtain maximal understanding for minimal time wasted reading them. I feel almost bad for these books, all of which sit there neglected, and unread. Often they quickly will find their way from there to the Used Bookstore without much effort or guilt on my part.
Books that are read for fun:
    The books I've read for fun remind me of things I read as a kid, staring wide-eyed and naively into the pages of old books, absorbing magically the adventures that went on. I haven't entirely lost that sense of excitement and suspension of disbelief. The books that fit under the fun category are all very dogeared. Not a single one without a cracked spine. It's not that I don't take care of my books, but more that after five or six readings it's very difficult to keep them pristine. All of these are fiction, but range from SF to even historical fiction.
Books that are read to think:
    Something about a way a book strikes me, usually in the balance of excitement to thought, often causes me to read with a pen. I get excited about these kinds of books, ofttimes philosophy, in which I create my own ongoing argument and dialog with the author of the book. I underline, I number, I reference. I love going back and reading these books again and again, because I see my thoughts, my little doodles on the side of the page that says "This author is on crack! He contradicts himself right here!" and "WTF is this tangent for?". They're not always the most intelligent comments, but I still write them in anyway because it causes me to think about what's going on, and to get a lot more out of a book.

    A lot of people think that the reading with a pen can be destructive to the poor book that you're marking up. For me, writing my thoughts in a book is a sign of love, that I care enough about this book to put a little bit of myself into it, and to take the time to think about every little thing it's saying.
The classics are what everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read.
----Mark Twain

On July 4th, we both had the day off but little inclination to do anything or go anywhere. It rained all day, so we stayed inside, napping at talking at intervals. He was looking at my bookshelf, where what books I owned were themselves sleeping and staying in the shade. He said, “You know something, all of your books have literary merit.” It took a while for this to register. Literary merit. I thought that was something all books had at least a drop of, in order to be books. “All of your books have some ideology, some theme behind them. You don’t own one single fluff book.”

Fluff book? “What I mean is, I read books just for something to do, a pastime. You seem to read books looking for something meaningful. You don’t just read a book to enjoy a good story.” He waved a hand across one shelf as though he was showing me some grand scenic view. “Any of these books,” he said, “could be read in a classroom, handed out for students to, well, study.” I pondered this, trying to tell if it was a compliment or if I have been too narrow minded in my reading. Earlier in the summer, he had constructed a list of books I haven’t read and moreover, would likely not read if someone I trusted hadn’t suggested them. One of the first ones I attempted was Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed it, but it was hard to appreciate the wordiness. The only reward the lofty language had for me was that I could skip a few paragraphs if I wanted and still keep up with the story, and the story seemed as complicated and overlapping as my own life, or when I tell people about my disjointed family tree. The next was Absolom! Absolom! by Faulkner, one of his favorite writers, though he like myself, admitted how hard it can be to wade through Faulkner. I tried to get into it, and we even read to one another as we had with Generation X, but after a while it was due back at the library and I just returned it. I have since lost the list and will have to get another; there were at least 30 books on it. Still, I puzzled his comment, and it showed in my face. “It’s not that deep, Laura.” Damn. Busted again.

My books, I suppose, are just as he says. When I read, I look for what the author is trying to say, not always on the story itself. I find authors that I like and tend to read a few of their books to get a feel for the person behind the words. While I do have many stories, novels, I also have many commentary books, like Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, 13th Generation: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, and Or Not To Be: A Collection of Suicide notes. About a third of them are obviously old college books I couldn’t resell or didn’t, bearing the familiar “used” sticker on the spine. Any poetry books were ones either bought for me or suggested by my more literary friends, other English majors who have, consequently, made more of their majors than I.

Perhaps I think like a writer, or want to, and so look for the writer of a book rather than the story. He said he categorizes all books into two groups: long sentences and short sentences. He talked about style and storytelling, and while I can see his point, I can’t quite say how I feel. To be honest, I never really thought about it before. It was odd how someone can notice things about you that you never saw, and you’ve been around yourself all your life. But it is one of those differences between us that I rather like, for it causes us to see and appreciate how we see, and read, differently.

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