Monday, October 25, 2010

What we talk about when we talk about books

Growing up, my family never talked about books. I'm guessing my first book discussions were with a librarian when I was eight or so, something along the lines of:

Me (pointing to some book with a juicy cover: swords, maybe, or half naked women, or--score!--both): I can't reach it!
Librarian (shaking head): There's a reason for that. Come back when you're older.

So I sighed and trudged to the history shelves and dragged out Gibbons' History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and lugged it home, and spent a happy weekend reading the lurid gossip of the times about assassination and orgies and war. (At least that's how I remember it. Please leave me my illusions.)

When I got a little older, ten or eleven, it was lessons at school.

Teacher (to class): Why do you suppose Tolkien used 'dwarves' as the plural of dwarf?
Me (and rest of class, in chorus): Don't know. Don't care.

I find The Hobbit much more linguistically interesting now but at the time I found it rather boring. But when my friend Gillian pushed a copy of Lord of the Rings at me, along with the endorsement, "It's really good," (Yorkshire-in-1971 tween equivalent of ZOMG! You'll totally, absolutely, right-now *die* if you don't read this!), took her at her word and gave it a go. And spent the weekend in a daze; I gobbled that book down as though I were a starving mongrel. But afterwards I had no idea how to talk about this book that had rocked my world. When I gave it back to Gill I managed, "You were right, I liked it a lot," then just stood there, gaping. I didn't have the tools for discussion.

Even now, I'm not very good, comparatively speaking, at talking about books. More accurately, I'm not very good at boosting them. Perhaps it's a cultural thing. In England it's Not Done to be enthusiastic about anything. Oh, I can rant until the cows come home about what's wrong with a particular book, but I can't rave about it for longer than a sentence or two. As I hate to use this blog as a bully pulpit, I rarely discuss books here at length--unless it's big enough to take care of itself, like Twilight or The Lost Symbol or The Strain.

However, there's a new review journal in town (well, about to be--more on that another time) and they've asked me to contribute. I have a couple of ideas for left-field articles (one of which I'm sure will get me into a lot of trouble, and so makes me smile and rub my hands to contemplate) but it has occurred to me that you, Faithful Reader, might have some nifty notions about what would make for good written (and later audio and video) book chat.

What do you talk about when you talk about books?

What kind of book-related discussion (anything, anything at all) are you hungry for?

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