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Bookish Q&A 1: Either/Or – Lioness at Large

Bookish Q&A 1: Either/Or

 This started as a BookLikes tag.  The bookshelves shown in this post are mine.

Booklet or Tome?

These days, both. For the longest time, I used to prefer brick-like tomes to shorter books; especially those that would take me to a world far removed from my own, either in terms of time period or geography (or both).  But at times when you don’t have a lot of time to read – which has been the case more and more persistently in my life in recent years – it occasionally also feels good to actually have finished a book, which of course with shorter books is easier to accomplish than with longer tomes. More fundamentally, though, I think these days it comes down to whether a book feels (too) long or (too) short to me; i.e., whether I think the author could have accomplished as much, or perhaps more, in less words, or whether I would have wanted more elaboration. Neither is good – so as long as a book feels like it’s got the right length, color me happy, whatever its actual number of pages!

Pre-Owned or New?

Preferably new, though if it’s a new-to-me author or a book that’s gone out of print and that I absolutely want to own, I’ll resort to used book purchases as well.

Historical Fiction or Fantasy?

Historical fiction – no question about it. History is one of my major interests, so a substantial part of what I read is history-related, both in fiction and in nonfiction. I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and other “Middle Earth” books, and there are a few other fantasy authors I read as well (the usual suspects – C.S. Lewis, Tad Williams, Sheri S. Tepper (to the extent you don’t want to classify her works as science fiction)), but by and large, it’s historical reads hands down.

Hardcover or Paperback?

Hah! Wouldn’t it be nice to own a library consisting almost exclusively of hardcover books? I don’t think that notion will ever be realistic in my case. I’m a collector of the Library of America series, and those volumes are almost all hardcovers (60 of the 65 volumes I own are, that is – and no, I have not yet read them all. But slowly does it … and at least I have every intention of getting there one day. Plus, it’s nice to know that whenever I do want to pick up one of those books, I already own it!). Similarly, I try to get books that contain a lot of illustrations in hardcover – not just photography and coffee table books, but also, for example, books containing historical maps and other images of historical documents. E.g., many of the books on Shakespeare that I own are hardcovers (though just as many are also paperbacks). Lastly, if it’s a special edition hardcover (such as those by the Folio Society), I may end up splurging on it, even if I already own the book. But for purposes of daily digestion, I’m afraid it’s virtually almost always paperbacks … I mean, if it comes down to “I want to read all ten of those books, but I can only afford five of them if I buy them in hardcover,” I’m afraid bibliophiliac greed wins the day every single time!

Funny or Sad?

Depends on my mood, but mainly, I think I prefer books that balance both elements – and that also make me think. Sheer nonsensical humor will make me laugh for a while, but I’ll find it funny only so long (even if it can be a great pick-me-up when I’m feeling down); and on the other hand, I’m bound to find pure tear jerkers boring pretty quickly as well.

Do you prefer reading in summer or in winter?

Year-round reader here! Funny, I’ve never even thought about this. At the moment, it mostly comes down to reading in bed anyway – snatching a half hour before turning off the light, and staying in bed reading instead of sleeping in on weekends … and I’ve always done that year round, regardless of the season. But even when I have more time to read, I’ll just end up taking my books to whatever comfortable place I can find and start reading; no matter whether beach, living room couch, sun-kissed balcony or whatever is available.

Classics or Mainstream?

If I’d absolutely have to pick one of the two, chances are I’d pick classics virtually every single time. There are also contemporary authors that I really, really like, but I got addicted to the classics early on in my life, and I’ve just never stopped loving them.

Guidebook or Fiction?

Fiction, no question about it. Almost the only guidebooks I own are travel guides (of those, I own a fair amount, however). But I loathe self-help and “lifestyle improvement” books, and with my two left hands I’m totally the wrong target audience for arts & crafts books or manual do-it-yourself guides. If the question had been “fiction or nonfiction” (i.e., for example, political, historical, or scientific/popular science nonfiction), my answer would still have been “fiction” by a long shot, though not as categorical as compared to guidebooks. But we’d at least still have been talking about book categories that do present a true alternative to me … whereas guidebooks don’t even figure on the same playing field as fiction when it comes to my personal library.

Crime Novel or Thriller?

Is that still a clear-cut distinction these days? Certainly the golden-age mysteries of Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers or, for that matter, Rex Stout and Georges Simenon are something entirely different from thrillers (and I’ll take a golden-age mystery classic over most thrillers in a heartbeat). But even the classic noir crime fiction (Hammett, Chandler, Highsmith, Cain, Woolrich), which I love just as much, contains elements typically associated with thrillers, and so do many modern crime novels – and by the same token, thrillers (at least the better ones) have long evolved past mere shock value and into asking questions of society and the individual; something that, at least these days, is very much the territory claimed by crime novelists such as Ian Rankin, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane or Michael Connelly, all of whose books I love precisely for that reason. So although my short answer would without question have to be “crime novels,” I’ll certainly enjoy a well-written, intelligent thriller as well.

Ebook or Print Edition?

Ever since September 2013, I’ve appended the parenthetical “Does not and never will own a Kindle” to my Goodreads profile/user name, and have been using the image to the left as my avatar … so there! 😉 – I dislike e-readers on a gut level, essentially for the reasons that Ray Bradbury states here (except that you can, of course, put a Kindle in your pocket – but other than that, the touch/feel/smell/experience thing is the same). E.g., I just can’t see myself switching on a Kindle for a good night read in bed. Also, I have to stare at a computer screen long enough every day anyway for my job, so when I read for pleasure, I am really looking for a different reading experience; all the more since I’ve noticed that when I read on a screen, I tend to read faster and skim a lot more, which is not at all the way I want to experience the books I read for leisure. And finally, according to the terms of use you don’t actually own the books you “buy” to download them on an e-reader, but they are merely licensed to you, and you can’t do anything with them that is not permitted as part of the license. If I buy a book, I want to be sure I own it and can do with it what I please … ultimately it’s as simple as that.

Collecting or Clearing Out?

Collecting, no question about it. I’m a hoarder by nature anyway, and I can’t even bring myself to throw away a book that’s falling apart, or that has its pages all sticking together and its ink running and smudgy because it’s gotten soaked (I’ve once had this happen to books I entrusted to someone for long-term storage … argh!). As it is, almost every piece of wall in my apartment not taken up by cupboards or other furniture is covered with bookshelves, and I’m constantly rearranging and adding new shelves – will be out of space for more shelves once and for all soon. (As a matter of fact, my mom observed only yesterday that I ought to be looking for a larger apartment in order to be able to store all my stuff … Since that’s not likely to happen, I’ll have to find some other solution eventually, though at this point I have no clue what it could possibly be! And don’t even mention e-readers in that context … See comments above.)

Internet or Bookstore?

Both. I can’t walk by a bookstore without peeking in (and typically, re-emerging with a shopping bag full of books). On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to miss the convenience of internet purchases, either, especially since only a small part of the books I read are in German, and if there’s one thing I’m not exactly nostalgic for it’s schlepping home whole suitcases full of books that I can’t get here from a trip abroad – as used to be my recourse more often than not in the good old days before the internet. (That is, these days I still tend to do this, but now of course it’s a whole different matter … I mean, what are all those beautiful bookstores in places like London and Paris for if not to be patronized?!) I’ve cut down on ordering from Amazon, however, as I don’t particularly enjoy the notion of feeding a monster (one that also eats its own employees, at that, not to mention its competitors and, more surreptitiously, its customers). While I still may look for books there, and use the Amazon wishlist function, my actual online purchases are frequently from other vendors.

Backlist or New Publications?

In 9 cases out of 10, backlist. I hardly ever get around to reading books the same year they are published. For more, see also my answer to the next question (re: best sellers).

Best or Bad Seller?

Well, that meme may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I am suspicious of hype, so the moment something gets labelled a “best seller,” it slides a few rungs down on my list of priorities, even if in theory it’s a book I might be interested in (unless it’s by a favorite author of mine and I know, or have every expectation based on prior experience, that I will enjoy it). Once a supposed “best seller” has gotten onto my “caution: hype” list, virtually the only thing that will then make me get interested in it again is a series of recommendations from friends whose judgment in books I trust, and who know my reading tastes well enough in turn. Even then, however, I will very likely not rush to buy the book immediately, but wait at least a year or two to see how its appeal withstands the test of time.

Cookbook or Baking Book?

I enjoy both and have a fairly extensive collection of cookbooks especially – unfortunately these days I have so little time to do any cooking or baking of my own that only regular dusting keeps my cookbooks and spice racks from collecting dust in the first place! Gone, at least for the moment, are the days when I’d return from a trip abroad with a stack of cookbooks in my suitcase and have friends come over for a “themed” evening with home made food from whatever place I’d been visiting … These days, unfortunately most of my exploring of foreign cuisines (outside of travel) is via restaurants …