Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eat any good books lately?

Magic: The Gathering: Whispering WoodsI used to be an avid reader. This was in middle school, back when we started off the school day with something like 30 minutes of SSR (short for "Sustained Silent Reading," or, as some of my classmates preferred, "Sit down, Shut up, and Read"). At the time, I read nothing but science fiction with the occasional fantasy book thrown in (mostly Magic: The Gathering novels), and I went through them like they were tissues. Erm...the kind of tissues you...wipe your eyes on?

Anysimile, I was big into reading until I got into high school, at which point my free time slowly started to disappear. More time was devoted to homework and new activities were added to my schedule, and there came a point when I had to be very selective about how I spent my free time. Previously I could read a book and play video games and watch TV, but now I usually had time for only one of these.

In the long run, video games won out over books, and TV was never much of a contender to begin with except when it was Star Trek. Between all the required reading for school and the stress-relieving qualities of blowing stuff up on my Nintendo, books started to lose their appeal as a pastime. I didn't stop reading entirely, but the books I did read were few and far between.

By the time I got to college I managed to read a few more books a year than I had been reading, mostly because I was invited to play Gilderoy Lockhart at a midnight party for the release of one of the Harry Potter books, and I figured it might make sense to read the books so I knew who who this character was.

The DaVinci CodeFunny thing is that, eventually, not even the character knew who he was. Well, I read the whole series anyhow, and I even snuck in The Da Vinci Code because people began talking about it incessantly; I could scarcely participate in any of the conversations around me until I finally read it, at which point no one was talking about it anymore.

My book reading habits tapered off after college, and comics became my literature of choice after Alex's influence sank in. It wasn't until about a year ago that I started reading not-comic-books again: I found myself without a job, so reading was a nice way to take a break from job searching without getting too unfocused.

Plus, when I was pursuing a possible career as an English teacher, it made sense to catch up on books that I as an English teacher probably should have read, such as The Joy Luck Club. Furthermore, there was a period when all the women in my life kept giving me books to read, which is why I've read Good Omens and The Time Traveler's Wife, two books I would have been unlikely to pick up otherwise.

Reading proved to be something that I was missing from my life that I didn't realize I was missing. I did some theological reading, which appealed to me both as a Religion major and a Christian in a perpetual quest for truth and self-improvement. I read about how to better my job search and land a career that's right for me. Heck, I even read the labels on cereal boxes, but then again, I've always done that.

I brought out a book that I should have read a long time ago called Mark Freedom Paid, an anthology of war stories from my grandfather and the men he served with in World War II. The stories alone are incredibly valuable, but the book is enhanced by the artwork of the late Sam Kweskin, who served with my grandfather and who worked at Marvel Comics for a time.

Mark Freedom Paid illustration by Sam KweskinI'm no history buff by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew a bunch of the guys whose stories are in this book--this wasn't a history lesson; this was a chance to learn more about where my grandfather and his buddies had been.

I continue to have at least one book in progress at all times nowadays, even if I need to put it on hold for a while. (Books aren't alone in this regard; even video games have taken a backseat to many of the projects I've been working on.) The last two books I picked out were a little...out of character, though. Both are memoirs of people I've never heard of.

What could possibly possess me to do such a thing?

The answer, my friends, is food. Food makes almost everything better, including, in this case, books.

The Gastronomy of MarriageThe first book I picked up is called The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love, by Michelle Maisto. It's the story of a couple's relationship as told through the meals they share and the food they prepare, complete with real recipes at the end of most chapters so that you can actually make the often-delicious food the author is talking about. I can relate to a good many things presented in the book, and the unique approach (as far as my experience goes, anyhow) of centering the story around food was what persuaded me to read through the whole thing.

The second book I picked up is called All the President's Pastries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House, A Memoir, by Roland Mesnier with Christian Malard. This one is the tale of how a rowdy young man from a small village in France became the Executive Pastry Chef at the White House, serving every president from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. I don't follow politics and I'm not into rags-to-riches success stories of any scale, but there's something about the behind-the-scenes perspective and the constant talk of desserts that's appealing to me.

All the President's PastriesBesides, there are priceless stories like the one about how Prince Charles came to the White House and locked up in awkward confusion when given a cup of tea, as he had never seen a teabag before and didn't know what to do with it. These kinds of stories put a more human face on the public figures who I only know for their deeds. I'm always more interested in politics and history when there's a story involved, but even then I find I can't always relate to the story, which is why lots of sugar and pastries are helping to hold my attention.

Reading, eh? Yes, it's good to be reading again. However, it's not so much a pastime these days as it is an opportunity for growth. Back in middle school, the books I read were largely for my own entertainment and rarely, if ever, found any application beyond giving me something fun to do; these days I usually seek more than just entertainment from my entertainment. The books I've been reading have sparked conversation with others, raised some interesting ideas and questions, enriched me personally, and have still held my attention enough to follow through with finishing them.

Not too shabby, right?

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