Monday, January 11, 2010

The Reading Habits of Fictional Characters

As I said on New Year's Day, one of my projects for the year is to keep track of all the reading done by the characters in the fiction that I read.

There was enough enthusiasm expressed in the comments of that post that I decided not to dally in getting the project started--even though the characters in the books I'm reading now aren't being very specific about their reading choices (except for the dead guy in The Yiddish Policemen's Union who read Siegbert Terrasch's Three Hundred Chess Games and "cheap Yiddish thrillers"). I'm inaugurating the project today with a few instances from a book I read several years back that I remembered as being especially bookish, Katharine Weber's first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.

I'm providing a Mr. Linky down below, and I'm being presumptuous in adding links Sherry and Mel U provided me with in the earlier post. Sherry wrote a post about Book-Loving Books last month and Mel U's entire blog is about the literary treatment of reading--I linked to a couple of his posts and I hope he'll link to more. And I'm hoping Frances will blog about the reading list completed byRoald Dahl's Matilda and provide a link here once she has!

If anyone else decides to keep track of, or to mention on occasion, what the fictional characters they encounter are reading, I would be most grateful if you'd link to it here after you've made note of it on your own blog. I will add a direct link to this post in the sidebar so that you can find it easily.

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And now for a few quotes from Katharine Weber's Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear:


She also has no good records. I just got up for a stretch and a prowl, and I see nothing worthwhile except for the Django Reinhardt album I gave her for her birthday last year, which she doesn't seem to have opened. Too much Rachmaninoff, way too much. Also odd books: very affettato fiction (The Name of the Rose, an unread-looking Pynchon, dog-eared Du Maurier, and strange quantities of Ann Beattie and Paul Theroux), three different How to Improve books (sex life, complexion, thighs), and, of course, your basic, up-t0-date Survivor Guilt Library: The Abandonment of the Jews, Holocaust Testimonies, the Annotated Diary of Anne Frank, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Children Without Childhoods, Nazi Doctors, Wartime Lies, Sophie's Choice, The Painted Bird, and every book by Primo Levi. (I wonder if I could make money with a Holocaust Book Club. You bet. People would be too guilty to return any of the monthly selections.)

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Was it Alexander Portnoy who thought spatula was Yiddish? When I was small, Gay read to me a lot (possibly because she wasn't particularly adept at making conversation with a toddler), and what she read included some books from her own childhood, as well as books she had read to my mother when she was little. Consequently, when I was about six (the story goes), I asked my mother for a sixpence for the gumball machine in the shoe store. (My mother thought this was a bit much and instituted an embargo on Enid Blyton books.)

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I lie on a chaise with my towel and book (I'm reading Anne's copy of Rebecca--I keep wanting to sing "On the Road to Manderley") and sunglasses, and when I get too hot, I swim, and then I come back and lie here some more.

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Harriet's books (she was always in the middle of several at once; this month she was reading Anne's books as well as her own Saki and Henry James stories) seemed to perplex Victor when he encountered them splayed on various surface throught the flat. He would pick up each one, examine the title with a distracted air as though hoping for some explanation of something, and then close the book (thereby losing Harriet's place) before putting it down.

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26 comments:

Kathleen said...

What a cool exercise! I've often jotted down ideas for future books because of references to them in what I am currently reading. I'll keep any eye out more than ever now!

Stefanie said...

Fun! Stevie Smith talks a lot about books in Novel on Yellow Paper. I haven't been keeping track though I supsect you will be :)

mel u said...

I added a couple of more Links related to this theme-

I love the idea of a post on the books mentioned in Matilda-my 11 year old daughter loved that movie when she first saw it at age 7 and still will watch it once and a while-her same age peer group all love it and all are scared of Trunchbull-I gave her a while ago my copy of Moby Dick (plays a big part in the movie) and wrote in the book that she can read the book when she is ready-she has it in a prominent place in her book shelves-I think it is a good idea to give children books to read that they may not be ready for yet but let them own them and keep in their rooms etc-

I will come back and add more links to reviews on the reading habits of literary characters later

in the mean time here is a link to some posts I have done on the topic

Reading Life Reviews

thanks for mentioning my blog

Lesley said...

What a fabulous idea! I will definitely participate. Thanks!

Dorothy W. said...

Fun! I didn't keep track when I read The Anthologist, but when you get to that book, you will find lots and lots of books that narrator is reading! Mary Oliver appears most memorably I think.

Frances said...

I am all over this! What fun! And the fantastic part is that I am currently reading Matilda with six fourth grade girls at work. Would also like to do a list for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia and her sisters are very well-read. And there are so many more...

ds said...

Oh, fun, fun! Will keep an eye out. Love the new header; it fits...

Bybee said...

I'd like to smack that Victor for losing Harriet's place. On the other hand, she should be using a bookmark instead of splaying them.

No one is reading on the Pequod, sadly. Well, Ahab is looking at old sea-charts.

Isabella said...

If anyone's on Twitter, I've started posting notes on the reading habits in fiction using #readinginfiction — I don't blog about all the books I read, and I wouldn't necessarily include their reading habits, but it's easy for me to post a quick note to Twitter (and possibly even retrieve it later). I encourage others to do the same. If someone can think of a more succinct hashtag...

SFP said...

Isabella, thank you for tweeting about it. I follow your RSS Twitter feed, so I'll try to read it with notepad in hand from here on so that I can jot down your finds.

I think I will set up a Reading Habits in Fiction wiki page later in the year and I can then add your contributions and any others that may participate. And then everyone can go there and plug in any instances they come across without having to come back here. I'd love for the project to become a community-wide one.

And I can't think of a more straightforward hashtag, even if it isn't particulary succinct!

Mel U, thanks for adding more links! I hope you do it often.

Dorothy and Stefanie, glad to know that goodies await me in both the Smith and Baker!

Kathleen, Lesley, Frances, DS and Bybee--looking forward to your future contributions!

Lisa said...

Excellent idea! Let me know when you set up the wiki -- I want to blog about it for Like Fire.

Courtney said...

In the book I'm reading right now - The Devil's Punchbowl by Gregory Isles - the narrator is an author and he is just so wildly popular that every other character can be found at one point reading his books. It's annoying.

claire said...

Loving it! I've already written two posts (three books) on it. Will link up with Mr Linky right away!

claire said...

Oh and incidentally, one of those books was by Roald Dahl's granddaughter. Serendipitous. :)

Eva said...

What fun! I'll be including relevent passages in my reviews from now on when they exist. :) I just reviewed White is for Witching, which had several references to real books.

Emily said...

Can I just say how much I love this idea? The book I'm reading right now - Paul Auster's New York Trilogy - is simply bursting with literary references. I'll definitely include some of them in my post & link it up.

Sandra said...

I must remember to write them down when I come across them. This a a wonderful and very interesting idea that I'd love to participate in.

Melissa Wiley said...

What a delightful idea! I'll keep my eyes open.

Sherry said...

Thanks for linking, and this is a good idea. It made me think of one of my favorite fictional readers, Nero Wolfe, who alway has a book or two that he's reading in between sessions with the orchids. SO I googled and found this list of Nero Wolfe's reading:

http://www.nerowolfe.org/htm/tidbits/WolfeReadingList.htm#books

Lenore said...

Chairman Mao read a lot of books in my last read Becoming Madame Mao, but he's not fictional. Does he count?

BTW, I love your cat bloggers blog roll. I put bizzare pictures of my cats (2 Sacred Birmans) up every Tuesday. Come on by!

SFP said...

Lenore, I originally thought this would just be for fictional characters, but there should be lots of interest in what real people read as well. Once I get a wiki going I will definitely have a separate section for real-life, but for now feel free to link to all instances of reading that you come across in the books you read.

And Sherry, what a great find that Nero Wolfe site is! Thanks.

Fay Sheco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fay Sheco said...

In Orhan Pamuk's _The Museum of Innocence_, the character Orhan Pamuk appears after the narrator tells us some of OP's favorite books. Since the Orhan Pamuk character is a fictional creation of the writer Orhan Pamuk, this booklist is both fictional and nonfictional. You would not need a list to see the influence of Nabokov in Pamuk's novel.

Orhan Pamuk's Favorite Writers

Avid Reader said...

I'm in the midst of John Green's "Paper Towns" and the main characters are reading Moby Dick and Leaves of Grass. I love this idea!

Randolph said...

I am a fictional character and I chiefly read Dante's Inferno (the Pinsky translation) since it is like an ocean of language and contemplation into which I can dive. I also read the tabloids (the New York Post is a favorite) since nothing quite so captures the human condition.
Sincerely,
Randolph

Jessica (The Bluestocking Society) said...

I LOVE this idea. I hope you keep it up this year too.