It is so much more pleasurable to read something good than to watch something bad that I don't at the moment have a TV. But it has to be a good book. I have no patience with poor writing, no matter how gripping the story is supposed to be, or how impressive the sales numbers. When a reader picks up a book, he or she is making a commitment of time and trust. That first page is the beginning of a conversation between the reader and the writer that can take hours, or days, or weeks to complete. When the writing makes me roll my eyes, though, that's it. "Period, paragraph, turn the page, close the book", I once heard a priest say at the end of a sermon. "Bye-bye, Dan Brown", say I.
Good writing, on the other hand, holds me like a passionate embrace. Here are a few titles I recently have found to be entrancing, challenging, inspiring, and "worth the whistling".
Blessings in Disguise by Alec Guinness. In this age of ghost-written memoirs, here is a gem of an autobiography. Guinness is an actor worth knowing more about, and a thoughtful, observant, and very witty writer. I so enjoyed getting to know him that I've just checked his A Positively Final Appearance out from the library.
Confessions of an Actor by Laurence Olivier. Articulate and fascinating, Olivier unfolds his story like a long conversation, with frequent digressions that give a looping timeline to the work. Reading this book, I began to understand that the bright and dark angels of the man were brighter and darker than I'd previously imagined.
Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan. This is an historical novel about the Brontë family. From the first sentences – Oh, my children. O, God, my poor children – I was fully engaged in the story. That the book is about three of my favorite storytellers (Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë), and their brother Bramwell, made it even more compelling. I don't know, however, whether a reader unfamiliar with Agnes Grey (by Anne), Wuthering Heights(by Emily), and Jane Eyre (by Charlotte) would enjoy it quite as much .
Another book I have enjoyed that refers to an earlier work is To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. I found this a while ago, courtesy of my stepmother. I have read it several times, and it always makes me laugh. It weaves itself through the story line of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, but it stands alone equally well. Chaos theory, time travel, romance and a carpetbag – what more could one want?
I did not link these titles to an online bookseller. Instead, I want to suggest that you look for them at your local library. If they are not on the shelves there, ask the librarians if they can get them from another library in the system. It is my understanding that part of what determines the funding any given library gets – funding that is always inadequate these days, and shrinking all the time – is the circulation numbers. That means how many books get checked out. So when we borrow books instead of buying them, we help that library stay open earlier, later, more days, with more books on the shelves, more computers in the computer room, more visiting artists.
It's as simple as that.