February 13, 2004



Come on, goddammit!! I said DISCUSS! Where is everybody??

Thats a tough one. Perhaps a great reader needs at least a bit of a classical education, or an ability to reach back when discussing contemporary work.
I've worked in bookstores for fifteen years and I have very little inclination to read much outside of whats new (all part of keeping up).
A great reader probably needs to stay current and still be able to keep their Shakespeare in mind.
A great reader should read critical work as much as anything else and should probably be aware of what is happening with international reissues. Haldor Laxness and Joseph Roth come to mind here, but as you said, Mark, there's just so much
I love to clear my palate, as it were with crime fiction and I'm increasingly finding its my drink of choice, so I'm falling further behind. After slogging through a seasons worth of Canadian fiction, as good as a lot of it can be, the call of someone like Donald Westlake is pretty hard to resist. Maybe great readers only get great by continuing.

Paul Terwelp

I'm wondering if a great reader is one who enjoys and understands the book most?
Sharing with others via the spoken or written word is not necessarily what makes a great reader,but it is what makes a great critic or pundit.
I suppose that if you read with a notebook and kept a list of questions for the author, you might feel greater about reading.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."