Priorities

I realized today that I’ve been reading the wrong book.

Perhaps wrong is too strong of a term – the book itself is quite interesting, in fact, which is why I’ve been reading it.

Here’s the problem: I currently have a (fiction) library book with a firm due date, a borrowed (non-fiction) book with a relaxed due date, and a non-fiction e-book that I purchased.  Guess which one I’ve been reading for the past few days?  That’s right, the one I own and can read any time.

Somewhat reluctantly, I set aside my Nook and picked up the library book.  Once the Wheel of Time pulls me back in, I won’t be glancing longingly at my Nook, but for right now my brain wants to know what happens next in TR’s presidency.   (Honestly, I can look up the facts, but the way the book is written I find myself enthralled.)

I just have to keep reminding myself that I own that book, and can read it any time I want.  Except right now, apparently. 🙂

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A Reading Dilemma

When you request an item from the library, especially through interlibrary loan, there is no way of knowing when it will arrive.  This can set you up for some potential dilemmas.

I have found myself facing one of those dilemmas.

I finished my current National Geographic on Wednesday.  (Okay, I didn’t finish it, but I only have part of one article left.  I need to be in the right frame of mind to finish that article, as it is about the slaughter of songbirds on the Mediterranean.)  I had no idea when my requested Wheel of Time would arrive, so I decided to go to the library and find an interesting non-fiction book.  I started reading the book I picked up shortly after I got it.  It’s very interesting, and I want to finish it, but being non-fiction it will probably take me a little while to finish it.

Of course, since I already started reading something, my requested book came in today.  It is also a large book, so even if I read it voraciously, it might take a bit to read.  This leaves me with a dilemma – should I finish the non-fiction, or should I set it aside while I read the fiction?  This also adds other considerations.  If I read the fiction, do I pause before book 5 to finish the non-fiction?  Which book is easier to renew, if I run out of time?

I’m probably putting way too much thought into this decision.  The reality is that I’ll read them both, in some order, unless the non-fiction gets boring and I give up on it.

Due Date?

First, let me start by saying I love the library.  I’ve already taken full advantage of the local branch.

Now to the complaint: due dates.

I am reading a book that I’m about halfway through.  It’s non-fiction, so it’s taking a little longer than it would were it fiction.  The problem?  It’s due on Monday, and I have a busy weekend.

Tomorrow I’m going to see if it qualifies for a renewal, so I can hold on to it for a little longer.  If not, I’ll have to decide if finishing it is worth the late fees.  🙂

Even Non-Fiction Needs Stories

I am greatly enjoying the non-fiction book that I am currently reading.  It was mentioned in an earlier post, thanks to its intriguing first sentence, and it has lived up to the promise of that opening line.

It also led to a realization for me: stories are important in non-fiction.

Obviously, these stories aren’t made up.  (Otherwise it wouldn’t be non-fiction, right?)  True stories can be just as captivating as imaginary ones, and peppering a non-fiction text with them helps bring the reader along and illustrate important points.  In the case of this book, I’ve read about Las Vegas showgirls, a battle between an eagle and a cormorant, and some of the earliest attempts at human flight.  The stories can be personal tales of the author, like the encounter with a murre in the middle of the road.  (“That’s how I found myself walking down a country lane in pitch darkness, talking soothingly to the seabird chewing on my hand.”)  They can also be true stories of others, as in the oft-repeated tale of Frank Chapman’s birding excursion in the streets of late-1800’s New York City.  On this trek, he documented over 40 native species; the birds were not on branches, but dead and mounted on hats.

Storytelling is our main way of communicating with each other, and the use of stories in non-fiction shouldn’t be surprising.  It turns out the best science (or history or any other subject) writers are as good at turning a tale as some novelists.  Theirs just happen to be true.

A Great First Sentence

My life is now in boxes, inside a large box, ready to leave before me to head to my new home in South Dakota.  This means that I finally have time to sit down and slow down for a minute, which tonight meant cracking open a new book.

This book, Feathers by Thor Hanson, promises to be the non-fiction book I’ve been looking for about the link between dinosaurs and birds.  (Science nerd, remember?)  More importantly, it has an awesome first line.

“Vultures made me do it.”

This is a great first sentence for a non-fiction book.  It immediately promises the touch of humor and personal approach that signal a book that will be enjoyable to read.  Plus, how many of us have an opportunity to say vultures made us do anything?

I’m going back to the book, and I let you know if it lives up to the promise of its first line.  🙂

The Stuff at the End of a Book

If you read fiction, you know that a novel usually ends on the last page of the book.  There might be a little snippet of the next book in the series, or a page about the author or the typeface, but that’s about it.

Nonfiction is different.  I just got done reading a large non-fiction book about biology.  The book part ended on page 614, but the last page of the book was 673.  That’s right, 69 pages of extra stuff.

What is this extra stuff, and why didn’t I read it?  In this case it was a list of suggested readings, references and citations from throughout the book, and an index.  These are reference materials, necessary for the book, but not really sit-and-read type things.  These are common things to find at the end of non-fiction (which I have been reading a lot lately) but which are usually not needed for fiction.  (A notable exception is Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead which includes both real citations and fictitious ones.)

This makes me glad that I don’t write non-fiction.  🙂

A Magazine to Fill the Space

I just finished reading an excellent non-fiction book yesterday, and on Tuesday I am going to borrow The Hunger Games from a co-worker, the next set of books on my list.  This leaves me with a gap in my reading.

I don’t want to start a new book, since I’ll be getting books on Tuesday.  I don’t want to go without something to read, either, because that’s no fun (and makes it hard to fall asleep).  Fortunately, I have two National Geographics that I haven’t read, which can fill that space quite nicely.  I also need to return to editing Dragon, which I started on the plane in Ecuador.

What do you do when you have this reading dilemma?

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