Why I Read

Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books
Wendy Lesser
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 7, 2014), 239 pages
Kindle Edition $10.67, Amazon Hardcover $18.63

I have seen several mentions of this book since it was first published. I read an almost loving review, which I believe was in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Most recently I heard Wendy Lesser interviewed on Forum on KQED radio. The conversation was fascinating, but perhaps that was to be expected since Forum host Michael Krasny is a professor of English at San Francisco State. In any case, I had trouble focusing on the work I was supposed to be doing since I wanted to give my full attention to the interview. It was that interview which prompted me to finally pick up Why I Read as my next book.

The book was enjoyable enough, but I realized that I would rather hear Lesser talk to a sharp interviewer than read her on the printed page (or Kindle iPad app screen, as the case may be). That said, the book was still well worth my time. As some of the Amazon reviews suggested, the book has a conversational style. And I’d much rather that than be preached at, certainly.

Lesser’s chapters have titles like “Character and Plot,” “Novelty,” and “Grandeur and Intimacy.” She covers a lot of territory. In one chapter she moves from Cervantes to Shakespeare and Chaucer to Swift and on to Mailer and Capote and their “nonfiction novels,” as she calls that genre.

One nice thing about Lesser is that she makes no pretensions about offering up any sort of canon, à la Harold Bloom. She does, however, provide a list of “A Hundred Books to Read for Pleasure,” ordered alphabetically and without comment.

In the end, I’m glad I read the book. Lesser had some interesting comments about mystery novels and books in translation, to mention just two topics.

And that KQED interview is here, if you’re interested.

One Comment on “Why I Read”

  1. […] the end of Why I Read, Wendy Lesser lists “A Hundred Books to Read for Pleasure.” She makes the point that “This is […]

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