Off the Shelf: What Are You Reading Now?

When people ask me what I’m reading, they always get more of an answer than they are looking for.
I have about four books in play right now.
On my phone, I’m reading Paranormal America, a sociology book that profiles Americans who believe in the paranormal. The authors visited different paranormal activities (a psychic fair, a Bigfoot hunt, a ghost hunt) and surveyed members of various communities about their paranormal beliefs. It’s interesting how what you believe in reflects your socioeconomic strata, your ethic background, and your religious beliefs. But the most striking thing to me is the gender disparity. The authors break the paranormal down into two groups: spiritual (psychics, tarot cards, crystal healing, etc.) and discovery of something unknown (aliens, Bigfoot, etc.). Generally speaking, women believe more in the former and men believe more in the latter. I am more interested in the latter, which ties in with my science fiction reading patterns. (Quick shout out for Naked Came the Sasquatch, a book crying out to be made into a really funny movie, although all the actors who would be perfect for it are at least 20 years too old to play the characters – looking at you, Jeff Bridges.) Great book for reading while planes are taking off or landing, because you don’t really lose the thread between flights.
On my desk is a copy of Great at Work, which talks about how to structure your approach to your job so that you become very good at the important things. Step 1: identify the important things; Step 2: focus on those and stop trying to be great at everything; Step 3: really focus on those and practice, practice, practice; Step 4: become really good at influencing others. That’s as far as I’ve gotten because I got too busy doing too many things. But it’s there on my desk, waiting for me to come back. Maybe on my next train ride to Boston.
On my bedside table are two books. First, the one I’m not reading, which is a history of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It was one of the last Reader’s Advances that I picked up before leaving my previous job, where I discovered so many books that I might never have seen otherwise. It’s interesting in an intellectual way, but not emotionally engaging. I now know that Pinkerton – and his lead detective, a man celebrity-famous in his time, who most of us have never heard of — both owned businesses in Chicago that were financially ruined by the Great Fire. That Pinkerton’s original logo was a giant eye, putting the “eye” in “private eye.” Like I said, fascinating tidbits, but it mostly seems to be about the great detective’s work busting coal unions and/or the Irish mob, depending on whose perspective you take, and I was kinda hoping for more. It’s there, waiting for me to finish what I’m actively reading from my bedside table, which is…
The Princess Bride. Oh, I’ve read this so many times. And each time I read it, I discover and rediscover what I love about this book. I thought the movie was fantastic, too, and there is so much more to love in the book. How Buttercup feels when she first realizes that she loves Wesley and what it does to her looks. Inigo’s whole backstory (which runs about three pages maybe; this isn’t Lord of the Rings, Goldman knows how to move things along). The whole subplot with The Sicilian (Wallace Shawn’s character in the movie), and his relationship with Inigo and Fesik. “Oh, The Princess Bride,” my husband sighed when he saw what I was reading, “Read it aloud to me.” I did, starting where I had left off, just as the kidnappers stood at the top of the cliffs looking down at the Man in Black, steadily gaining on them. (Just past the point where The Sicilian says “Inconceivable,” one time too many and Inigo chides him with “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” a comment which could perfectly apply to my attempts to speak Spanish.) He stopped me almost immediately, “The Sicilian? He’s the Six-Fingered Man, right?” No, the Sicilian is the Sicilian. “The prince?” No, the Sicilian. “I remember Andre the Giant and Inigo Montoya, but I don’t remember the Sicilian. What did he do when they stormed the castle?” He dies before then; in fact, he probably dies in the next chapter. “So he was a minor character?” No, but Wesley kills him relatively early in the book. “I don’t remember him.” He was the Wallace Shawn character in the movie, the hunchback, the smartest man in the world. “I think you’re making this up.” Look, do you want me to keep reading, or what? “Keep reading.” Man I love this book. Genius.
So, be careful if you make casual conversation with me at an event about what I’ve been reading, because you will always get an earful. I apologize in advance.

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