The Frugal Reader

February 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

Our recent discussion on buying books has got me intrigued.  I suspect that there’s a significant overlap in the Venn diagram between voracious readers and frugal spenders.  I thought I’d ask my readers: what do you think?

Have you ever bought books with your food money?

Do you spend more on books than on utilities?

Do you have more books than furniture, by weight?  By cost?

Frugality is a question of spending intentionally so as to be able to afford a particular lifestyle on limited resources.  For instance, I choose to live without a car so that I can pay off my student loans early.  If I stay on track I should be done ten years early (consolidated with a 15-year term), so to me, it’s worth it.  My brother, on the other hand, values cars more, so for many years he worked two jobs to afford his dream car and all the trimmings.  (Custom chrome gas pedal, anyone?)  He plays offense; I play defense.  We are both careful spenders.

If you’re frugal, you have a sort of seventh sense for the tradeoffs involved in spending or earning money one way over another.  You can take one look at something like a sixpack-size mini-fridge, avoid laughing so hard you spray your drink everywhere, and walk on by without even thinking about taking out your wallet.  You have methods for squeezing the last dregs out of every jar and tube.  You can automatically calculate the per-year cost of your friend’s daily spending habits, like lattes or *gasp* cigarettes.  You have a formal philosophy about things like spatulas and duct tape.

If you’re as frugal as me, you often can’t figure out where to buy something because you’re so rarely in any store for anything other than groceries, so you wind up doing without.  Your holiday wish list includes items like baking pans and postage stamps.  You accidentally touch your emergency credit card and start breaking into hives.  You’ve made the Abe Lincoln on the penny weep tiny copper tears.

I think frugality and reading go hand in hand for many reasons.  For one, people who have expensive habits might not have the patience to be heavy readers.  People who do read understand that reading is more than just an inexpensive habit, though.  We know that reading enriches us, teaching us new things, expanding our vocabularies, and raising our IQs.  (It also doesn’t hurt when your boss catches you reading a history book in the lunch room and confesses that he’s writing a book about the same period).  A book can do more than smash a spider or insulate a room.  It can take you to the kingdom of the mind, where material possessions fade to insignificance.

Does frugality make a reader, or does reading tend to make one frugal?  Do we lean toward reading because it’s one of the best and cheapest ways to spend our free time?  Or do we gain some kind of perspective from reading that makes us less interested in shopping?

Frugal readers, weigh in and let me know what you think.

“How to Read Novels Like a Professor”

February 6, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Books About Books, Nonfiction, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Thomas C. Foster has done it again.  Our favorite literature professor has made an accessible, funny introduction to his pet subject.  How to Read Novels Like a Professor is the follow-up to How to Read Literature Like a Professor.  (One senses a trend).

How to Read Novels succeeds in all the ways its predecessor did.  It surpasses it in that Novels seems to have fewer spoilers than Literature.  Foster mentions the spoiler issue, toward the end of the book, so we can surmise that someone brought it to his attention.  It would be difficult, if not impossible, to write a spoiler-free book about analyzing literature, unless you wrote your own stories and analyzed them.  Who would want to read that?  Anyway, if you want to enjoy Foster’s books you’ll have to accept that most likely at least one spoiler will penetrate your defenses.

The first question answered is, what is the difference between novels and literature?  In more prosaic terms, what’s the point of writing a second book virtually identical in concept to the first?  Foster points out that not all novels are literature and not all literature takes the form of a novel.  (This is why we’re hoping he’s working on How to Read Poetry Like a Professor).  We are glad for the distinction.  Indeed, the themes of the two books are quite different.  We feel we’re taking the 102 class the semester after 101.

One of the things I like about Foster is that I have learned just a tremendous amount about books from him.  Another thing is that, while he’s probably read every work of repute published in the English tongue, he’s not a snob at all.  He discusses detective novels and Harry Potter along with Joyce, Faulker, and others of their ilk.  (Harold Bloom, on the other hand, dismisses Toni Morrison as “grocery store fiction” (in the new How to Live, by Henry Alford) – making one wonder just what he does consider Real Literature).

Reading Foster is the perfect solution for those of us who never managed to take a lit class in college.  He exposes us to high-falutin’ literary fiction in a way that makes us not only feel that we might understand it, but maybe even want to try it.  He teaches us about books without any weighty expectations about anything we Ought to read.

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