06 December 2013


Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 14

My sister knows how to read and occasionally likes to read, but she probably won't make time to read, which means that she isn't a reader. Do you know someone like this?

A few weeks ago, she told me that she had just defended my honour by placing a respectable bet on my head. That is, one of her new friends had said that there was no way I had read a certain book, and my sister had bet good money that I had already read every book the other girl could name--and then some!

"You do realise," I said, "that no one has read every book in the world?"

"Yes, but I'm sure you've read the one she is thinking of."

"How can you say that if you don't even know the title, the author or the genre?"

"I know that it's a New York Times Bestseller!"

"That's even worse! Have you seen my library? NYT Bestseller status means I'm likelier to have heard of it but less likely to have actually read it."

"Whatever. You've read so much that our odds are great!"

So I had to go with her across town to meet the new friend, who asked me about a book I had indeed heard of . . .

. . . but had not yet read.

I actually felt a little bad about losing the bet for my sister, because it's not as if this book had totally slipped my attention. When her friend asked, "Have you read Outliers?" and I asked, "By Malcolm Gladwell?" I could tell that I had surprised her by instantly naming the author. And I really have been curious about Gladwell's books for years; they're just not the sort I collect, so I never get around to buying them.

On the way home, I mused that no matter how many books someone has read, it is incredibly easy to name one that he hasn't. I didn't mean the thousands of titles which are doomed to remain obscure, but the hundreds which readers hear about, feel a bit of interest in, but ultimately set aside for another day which never comes.

I tried to tell my sister as much, but she casually waved her hand at me and said, "I don't care! To me, you have read every book in the world."

And that is how a non-reader tells a reader that she loves her! =P 

* * * * *

This brings me to what may or may not be my next reading challenge. Ever since I serendipitously reserved December and January for children's literature last year, and saw how well they fit together, I've wanted to do it again. And despite my love of such books, the two which I was going to ask everyone to help me choose between are titles I've known about and been putting off for years, for no good reason.

But then the Reading for Believers blog suddenly became active again, with another member inviting everyone to read Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson with her. That's also a book I have heard of (mostly because someone had mentioned that Pope Francis had alluded to it) and decided to set aside for some future time. Which could be some kind of irony, given that it's set in a past vision of a dystopian future, and I don't have time for it in the present.

Unfortunately, I can't read both, because I also have to help my Managing Editor at Dappled Things comb through the submissions for the very first J.F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction. And I promised NoelCT that I'd watch all the Bloodfist movies with him when he'd finally get around to them, and he happened to start watching them just the other day. And I have a pesky thing called a job that pays for the food I use to stay alive in order to blog, so it's kind of important.

Oh, that reminds me of something . . . Have I mentioned the Dappled Things Advent 2013 Appeal to you yet?

I usually do as I please and am appreciative of anyone whom it also pleases to tag along, but this time I think I'll ask for participation in advance. Would you rather join me and the other ladies at Reading for Believers for Benson's Lord of the World . . . or try your luck with one of the two challenging children's novels that sit on top of the stack in the Shredded Cheddar Mystery Box?

If you're not the voting sort, here is another question . . . Which relatively well-known book would people be surprised to know that you haven't read?

Image Source: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell


Angie Tusa said...

Funny, I have also heard of Outliers but not actually read it. In fact my boss gave all of us a copy of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and I'm sorry to say I haven't so much as cracked it open, even though I'm curious about some of Gladwell's ideas.

I probably won't have time to actually read along with all the other things I'm currently working on, but Lord of the World sounds like an interesting book I would like to hear about. Of course I'm sure I'd be happy to read your entries on a children's novel too. :)

I'm not sure if there's a book people would be surprised to know I haven't read. At this point I have a feeling people think I only read Stephen King!

Enbrethiliel said...


Among all Gladwell's titles, I think Blink is the one I'm most interested in. I'd love to think without thinking! ;-)

I was thinking about what might surprise me about you, and I figured that it would be, if ever, your not having read at least one of Joe Hill's books.

Sullivan McPig said...

Mystery Box!

And I will have to confess:
The Hobbit....
I started it, but: the cloaks, the singing... it was too much for my fragile patience.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm smiling at your choice, Sully, because I think that out of everyone who comments here, you would be most qualified to vote between the two Mystery Box books. (Ooooh! What could they possibly be??? LOL!)

Given the other books you tend to review, I'm actually not surprised that you had that reaction to The Hobbit! ;-) I'm starting to think that we can never predict the things about us which will shock others . . .

Well, except for Paris Hilton. Someone once asked her what thing about her would surprise people and she said, "I'm a really good cook." That did raise my eyebrows! But then again, Paris controls her image so well, that she would know which private facets of hers would clash with her public persona.

DMS said...

I have heard of Outliers and know a lot about it because two of my friends read it and were fascinated by it. I actually have it to read- but I haven't gotten to it yet. I agree- no matter how much I read there are always books out there that I haven't read!

Sheila said...

Hm, Robert Hugh Benson is good! But I can't vote without knowing what the mystery choices are. I always end up voting for the mystery just because I can't stand not knowing!

There are lots of books I haven't read. But what would people *expect* me to have read? A few years back I read the first three Anne of Green Gables books because I was so tired of having people be shocked that I hadn't. And I wanted to know if Anne was really like me .... (I suppose she is kind of like me, but I hate to admit it because I don't like her.)

Sheila said...

Oh dear, I looked up Lord of the World (I will read *anything* that's a free download, it seems!) and am scoffing to myself. Dystopias more than fifty years old make me chuckle, because of course we are in dystopia-land now, and how little the world resembles what they speculate! I guess the thought back then was how fast things were changing then, and so naturally they would change even faster, but one would think anyone could figure out that each nation and religion has too much history and too much enmity of all the others to meld into big conglomerates.

So I vote Lord of the World, because now it appears I'll be reading it anyway, and I'd rather read it along with you than bore all my acquaintance with talking about it.

Sullivan McPig said...

Oh, now I'm curious. Evil! ;-)

And you are probably right: it's indeed difficult to be surprised by people we know well. Although people are often surprised when they find out about my owner's cross stitching.

Enbrethiliel said...


Jess -- Outliers seems to be the one which resonates the most with people. Of course, I'd actually have to read it to find out why! LOL!

Sheila -- Here's a hint: they were originally published in another language, but their English translations have also been best-sellers.

Now you're reminding me of Daddy Long-legs by Jean Webster. The protagonist grows up in an orphanage, and when she finally goes to college, she learns just how many "standard" books she hasn't read. If I remember correctly, all she mentions is her own sense of having missed out, but I'm sure it started with someone else being shocked that she hadn't read so-and-so yet.

Since you have read and loved the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace, which tend to be shelved with those of L.M. Montgomery, I can imagine why a lot of people would have been amazed that you had never read any of the stories about Anne Shirley. I guess that we tend to lump books together in the sense that "If you love A and are familiar with B, then you must have also read C." In related news, I once shocked a friend who knew my favourite cable channel was TCM when I revealed, after two years of getting my fill of Hollywood's "Golden Age", that I had never seen It's a Wonderful Life.

I have to smile a little at Anne being a bit of a thorn in your side, but I know the annoyance quite well. In the past, people thought I was a Mandy Moore fan (?!?!?!) because her characters in some movies reminded them of me! I honestly can't see a resemblance.

And FINALLY, someone who agrees with me that we're currently living in a dystopia, despite the best efforts of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, et. al. to warn us away from it! But I guess we can talk about this later? ;-)

Sully -- Whichever I end up doing, I'll still reveal the Mystery Box pair. =) I've also just given Sheila another clue in my reply to her!

Based on the things your owner likes and your big family of soft toys and figurine friends, I am not surprised by the cross-stitching. She seems like such a quirky, crafty person that I'd be surprised if she didn't get some sewing done!

Bob Wallace said...

Almost reluctant to burst some bubbles here, but Gladwell is not someone to take seriously.

Enbrethiliel said...


You're only almost reluctant, Bob? ;-) But one immediate benefit of that bubble bursting is that everyone here who hasn't read it (in short, everyone here--LOL!) can at least feel better about the fact.

Sheila said...

I think one of the reasons I like Hunger Games is because it's a decent image of the sort of dystopia we actually have. You don't need spy screens in every single room to be living in a dystopia.

Enbrethiliel said...


We totally agree there. Who needs a spy screen when you have a TV screen and a media monopoly?

We have more of a media cabal in our world, but as the "Big Six" infogram argues (Have you seen it?), that's hardly a good thing in comparison. There's so much sameness in the media these days and we've been trained to expect certain formulae. A few weeks ago, I listened to a great Cracked.com podcast which said that the big studio movies follow a specific plot pattern so closely that the we end up thinking that a perfectly decent movie is "dragging" unless certain things happen at the 45-minute mark, the 60-minute mark and the 85-minute mark--or their equivalents, depending on the entire run time. If so, then we have a very limited mindset!

And don't get me started on the food industry and its "Big 10"! That's your job. ;-)

Speaking of formulae, have you read the Divergent series? I actually want to get started on that because the movie trailer made me think it would be a satire of high school and modern education in general, although it's being marketed as a satire of the entire society.

Bob Wallace said...

"You're only almost reluctant, Bob?"

He's such a glib writer, and so interesting, that many think he knows what he's talking about - which he does not.

Sheila said...

Big 10? Try big TWO. I read a joke in an agrarian book: Someday there will be only two farmers in America, ConAgra and Cargill, and one will have to buy the other because neither is big enough to make any money.

Of course that's not entirely true because each food product has its own two or three producers. (Or in the case of some things, like cranberries or pomegranates, only one.) Commodity crops are Cargill or ConAgra; processed stuff is Nestle or General Mills; bananas are Chiquita; and so on. People don't realize it because each hides under so many subsidiary brands.

No, I haven't read Divergent, but I want to. I bet after that trailer, all the library copies will be checked out!

love the girls said...

Or let it be big one in all the large chains.

Having been on the other side, I don't think there's some nasty conspiracy out there, big chains have store buyers that want the same product in every store.

When I was a child, my grandparents were the sole manufacturer of soft soled shoes available in all the stores in the department stores in the U.S.. And those shoes are still the dominant shoe in all the big box stores like target or wallmart and similar. It's simply how the industry works.

That company was sold long ago and my sister went into the same business manufacturing soft soled shoes with a better design, and as soon as she was in a good majority of the same stores, she was offered a price by kidsRUS, and she sold because that is likewise how the industry works.

love the girls said...

The Robert Hugh Benson book is on our front room library shelf, so convenience says, vote for Lord of the World.

But, on the other hand, the phrase "go to the stacks" is a phrase that never grows tiresome when playing Authors.

On the other hand, I always pass by the Benson books when searching for something to read, and this will force my hand in a good direction.

But then again, I did grow up watching Let's Make a Deal on TV and how often do I have the chance to choose what's behind the curtain?

And so I'm rather torn both ways with only one reasonable solution, I choose them all.

amy said...

I don't comment when I read, and I just finished the little house books this month so my opinion shouldn't count for a vote, but I'm between books and up for anything... The only thing is that it takes me at least a week to get my hands on a book, so the sooner I know what we are reading, the more likely that I can keep up. :)

love the girls said...

Miss Amy,

I really liked your insight on milk teeth you posted on my blog, very Aristotelean. And now I see one of your favorite books is Aristotle's physics. And so I'm wondering, are you by chance the Amy M. TAC grad who lives in LA?

Enbrethiliel said...


Bob -- Care to share some details?

Sheila -- The subsidiary brands are really clever. If it weren't for Nestle Crunch, I wouldn't be on speaking terms with Nestle. Its other products give me the worst canker sores! =(

LTG -- I have no quarrel with market forces and I buy all my shoes from stores because I know that I could never make a decent pair myself. But there's no comparison between food and shoes. I find the food industry particularly insidious because it will literally pass unhealthy options off as decent food. That's the equivalent of a shoe manufacturer producing shoes that fall apart after the first use.

As usual, your vote will be impossible to overlook.

Amy -- It looks as if Lord of the World winning, and I don't smell an upset in the future! ;-)

love the girls said...

Miss E,
I don't even like the common manufacturing of shoes, but the problem is mass merchandising and the need for simplification. Buyers can't buy for individual stores, and is difficult even for regions.

Enbrethiliel said...


This isn't a marketing issue as much as its a lifestyle issue. In the same way that books don't have to be banned or burned if people won't read them anyway, local produce doesn't have to be priced at a disadvantage if people would really rather have the convenience of processed food over the benefits of homemade meals made from scratch.

A few months ago, I talked to a Madrid-based trainee about the news report Spaniards dish up tasty garbage to fight waste, and he wasn't at all surprised that it was so easy for the activists to set up buffets with food salvaged from rubbish bins--because he and his own wife toss so much of their own shopping before they can cook it. This doesn't include the restaurant lunches they both have at work and the times when they order takeaway because they're just too tired to make their own dinners with what they've already bought. They'd love to be more economical and frugal, but with both of them working full-time jobs, it's simply easier to live the way they do now. (I didn't have the cheek to ask whether one of them quitting his or her paid job to manage the home full-time would turn out to be the more practical option in the end.)

Sheila said...

People love to say "that's how the market works" when the real answer is, "That's the value set people have." People would rather buy what they saw advertised on TV. People would rather shop at Walmart, and Walmart has an easier time sourcing from a few companies for all its stores. And so on. People choosing convenience over taste or health or price aren't "how the market works," they are evidence of the values of our culture.

We also don't usually know which shoes will last and which won't, so we buy cheap. Well, at least that's what I end up doing. My husband needs new shoes every year; I'm not sure it saves us money this way, but I don't know where you would find shoes that lasted longer.

Nestle is one of the few companies I refuse to buy from at all. Normally I just figure I'm too tired to do all the research and too poor to buy the alternative and half the time there isn't an alternative anyway. But Nestle is particularly heinous. They sell baby formula in the Third World. Their method is to tell poor mothers their breast milk is inadequate because they are malnourished (amazingly, it isn't) and give them enough free formula samples to get them through the first few weeks. Then when the mother's breast milk has dried up, they stop giving samples and want full price. Thousands of babies die every year from watered-down formula (because the mothers can't afford do make it full-strength) prepared with unsafe water. The results are tragic: http://www.whale.to/w/baby_milk2.html

So, I guess that's where I draw the line. Actually killing babies will do it.

Sorry, I know I'm being "that" person who won't let anyone enjoy a candy bar without bringing in dead babies. But aren't Hershey Krackle bars the same thing?

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "We also don't usually know which shoes will last and which won't, so we buy cheap."

Your value set is cheapness, whereas mine is enslavement to fashion, thus the only shoes I buy new are wood soled clogs, and whatever shoes I happen upon at the thrift store.

Sheila writes : "that's how the market works" when the real answer is, "That's the value set people have."

Market and "value set people have are" tautological. One can blame the entertainment industries selling of advertisement, or any of a number of causes, the end result is that americans are inculcated almost from birth to buy name brands.

We have GMO tomatoes because we are inculcated to only accept perfect looking tomatoes. Perfect looking tomatoes is a set value, it also happens to be the market demand that must be met or the product will be rejected by the buyer.

And just as there is that demand, so likewise are there others that drive industries to respond in certain manners.

Bob Wallace said...

"Bob -- Care to share some details?"

Just Google Steve Sailer Malcolm Gladwell.

There are many others, but Sailer probably did the best job.

love the girls said...

Miss E,

Salvaged food is pretty gross.

While I may think that perfection of a tomato should a good other than some geometric perfection that can survive a week or more of crushing weight shipping,that doesn't make me any the more inclined to dine at a restaurant that procures its foodstuffs from within garbage bins.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bob -- Okay, I did it. =)

LTG -- Are you trying to say that your takeaway from my last comment was that we should eat food from rubbish bins???

love the girls said...

Miss E,

No. But but having grown up on the stuff, not garbage, but the holistic whole food movement (my mother did after all start the first organic foods grocery store and restaurant in the Denver area and was the clearing house for the movement in area), I just shudder in agony at things like garbage bin menus.

The first sale ever for Celestial Seasonings was a $40 purchase by my mother where the kids were just jumping up and down with glee that someone had bought their tea. And while some may gripe at massive Celestial Seasonings dominating the market, I'm glad that it was so successful and everyone now has access to their tea.

Sheila said...

What I mean is that it's not how "free markets" work, it's how markets in America work because they are marketing to American taste. You can't blame capitalism for Americans preferring round tomatoes. That's just a choice people make, and it has to do I suppose with what they're brought up with.

I'd be willing to buy more expensive shoes if they lasted longer. But I suppose even that is making cheapness -- one pricey pair of shoes rather than three cheap pairs -- my main value. I simply don't want to go broke keeping us in shoe leather. The rate the kids go through shoes, oh dear! And then they always lose one of every pair!

I swear, I'm to the point where I am pricing cow skin online and reading moccasin tutorials. It's that or be that poor family with the "talking" shoes.

amy said...

LTG- You have unmasked me. (Further proof that there is no anonymity on the net.)

Sheila- I am always relieved to hear of other people boycotting Nestle.

E- I'll work on picking up a copy. Will you please tweet about posts so that I don't miss the discussion? Oh, and don't forget to tell us what is in the mystery box.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I actually don't have Nestle Crunch (or any chocolate bars) that often. It's just the first Nestle product which ever comes to mind. So yes, I could live without it. =) They don't sell Hershey Krackel bars here, though, so I'll have to make one of those DIY Crunch/Krackel if I really want to show them! ;-)

You know, I just might . . .

Amy -- Otepoti will be writing most of the Lord of the World posts, but I'll be just as happy to link them. =)

The Mystery Box post will come out next Sunday or Monday. There's a very good reason for that, which will also have to be another mystery for now. (Oooooh!)

love the girls said...


I suppose I like to look at the bright side. GMOs are from Hell, but whole wheat flour is now a staple where as when I was little it could not even be purchased anywhere.

Nestle may build hospitals in Africa where the babies are kept on separate floors from their mothers, but I now know of a number of mothers who are home birthing their babes.

When I look close to home I see a holistic view that has taken root and is spreading.


Miss Amy,
What it proves is that we live in a small world.