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What I Read – Katie Smogoleski

by on June 2nd, 2011

I read books. I am a lover of words, their meanings and origins, the
poetry and rhythm of them, the impact of them. Think of what you can
do with words. You can persuade someone into action. You can make
someone cry. You can make someone laugh. You can bridge a gap, rescue
someone. All with just words. I read my first words when I was four
(thanks, Sesame Street!), and reading has been my vice and my escape
since then.

In most regards, I am an old soul and I live simply. I like to bust
out my Springsteen album and clean the house or cook a meal for my
family. I can create a lot of things with my hands. I get only very
basic cable channels. I record TV shows with a VCR and and a VHS tape.
I drive the same car I’ve had since college. I have a pay-as-you-go
cell phone, and I only text or call when necessary while traveling,
never just to kill time or keep busy. I like the outdoors, and I still
camp in a tent. And I check out nearly everything from the library:
music, movies and books. Where else can you check out a movie for a
week for free? And if I have to wait a few weeks to get The Social
Network? That’s cool. I have plenty of books to read in the mean time.
I will not be a victim to instant gratification.

Recently, I bought myself a first-generation Kindle for Mother’s Day.
This was a big step for me, as I love real books. Space was the
biggest issue for me; my bedroom and living room were becoming
something of a fire hazard, and sadly, I was beginning to buy books
that I forgot I already owned. I haven’t bought a real book since the
Kindle acquisition, but I’ve continued to check out several from the
library and am in the process of reading my first eBook on my Kindle.
I’d like to find a balance between the books I already own, but
haven’t read, library books, and my Kindle. I’ll allow myself a couple
“gotta have it” purchases of real books when I see fit. Books are and
always will be what I buy with my disposable income. Not as pretty as
shoes, but new peep-toes won’t keep me company when I’m stuck waiting
for a train for 15 minutes.

I used to be a total book snob. I have a BA in English and writing and
read mostly classics all through college. There I developed an
affinity for Thomas Hardy, the Brontes, Charles Dickens, John
Steinbeck, and Virginia Woolf. After a steady diet of these authors, I
was very particular about my reading. I continued reading classics and
poetry until my mother, also an avid reader, wore me down with her
frequent praise of modern authors, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Anita
Shreve. I read about six or eight books a month. If I hadn’t broadened
my horizons, I would have missed out on some gems, like The Book
Thief, The Kite Runner, Oryx and Crake, and Let the Great World Spin.
I’m currently reading The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account from the
perspective of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. I’m also in the middle
of a book of Dylan Thomas poems. There’s no sense in restricting
myself to reading only certain books, and I feel good supporting
living authors. My favorite modern writers are Ian McEwan and Cormac
McCarthy. Yep, I like the macabre. There are still a lot of classics
that I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read: Moby Dick, for example. War
and Peace. Ulysses. But I’m still (fairly) young, and F. Scott
Fitzgerald is still my favorite author. If I had a dog, I’d name him

I have a few rules of thumb when reading books. 1. I have to get to
page 50 before I can abandon a book altogether. Sometimes a book is
terrible, and it takes me longer than it should to get to page 50.
Sometimes things are just getting good around page 50. I started The
Life of Pi twice and stopped at page 50 both times. The third time was
the charm, and holy crap- was the payoff worth it in the end. 2. If I
get within 100 pages of the end of a book (what I call striking
distance), I have to finish it. I can think of a few I made myself
finish, though I was no longer interested in the outcome, notably The
Shack and Eat, Pray, Love. 3. Books that resonate with Oprah Winfrey
or the general public are not usually good choices for me. Example:
The Secret.

So far, my summer reading list includes books two and three of the
Millennium Trilogy, Townie by Andre Dubus, The Passage by Justin
Cronin, The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen, Year of Wonders by
Geraldine Brooks, The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker, and
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Also lots and lots of children’s
books. The best part of my day is reading to my children, and though I
let them pick out two books each night, I am secretly partial to
Arnold Lobel.

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