For someone who's made a living for a long time talking about books and being looked at as a wide, eager reader, an odd reality is the fact that no one has ever believed me when I've tried patiently to explain that there are entire categories of writing I truly never think about. Whole genres are of basically no interest to me. I might know a little about them, be able to recognize some big names, might even be able to steer people who're into a particular genre toward something that they might like -- while I myself never go near the stuff. In general, I do not read mysteries or science fiction or fantasy; I don't read military or political history or self-help books; the only travel writer I've ever read willingly is Bill Bryson, who hardly counts, in my view, since I think he's really a humorist; and I don't read poetry. I don't even think of poetry as being important most of the time. It's an indulgence. Usually a whiny indulgence, I feel. It's navel-gazing, I think to myself in my nastier moments. And usually so humorless, and undisciplined. Who needs it? (Don't try to argue with me; just chalk it up to personal taste and move on; the point of this is really not to debate the value of poetry or poetry reading, just to make it clear that, ok, I've got this bias, it's ugly, and I admit it.)
There are some poems I am attached to, though, and there are a handful of mystery novels I love and read over and over again. I've yet to find a science fiction novel that interested me, though. And military history? Um.... no. Hasn't happened for me yet. But you never know; I was thinking I might read Charlie Wilson's War some day, and even thinking that thought was a major step.
That said: I am a huge, huge, huge fan of Nicholson Baker, and have been since his first book came out in the late 1980s. I was a clerk at Atticus when The Mezzanine came out, and I read it (god knows what brought it to my attention, but I bought it, and I read it over and over again). Since then I have devoured almost all of his books. Some of them are on my yearly re-read list. I admit I couldn't get through Checkpoint, and I was never able to spring for his book on newspapers, and I haven't read Human Smoke (the subject matter didn't really appeal to me, but maybe I'll get it to it someday). Otherwise, though, my rule of thumb is, If Nicholson Baker's left his fingerprints on something, I want to get my hands on it as soon as possible.
So my perfect husband gave me The Anthologist recently -- Baker's new novel. I had planned to save it to read while on vacation next week. However, I was unable to wait and I'm now closing in on the end of the book, reading it in snips when not traveling or preparing for a New Year's Eve shindig or cleaning up and recovering from said shindig. And here's what blows my mind about this -- I am tearing through this book even though it's about poetry. It's about poetry, for god's sake. I don't give a crap about poetry. And I really don't give a crap about poets who write about nature, possibly my least-favorite subject in the world - yet Nicholson Baker has managed the impossible, which is to get me to utter the following sentence: "I think I might read some Mary Oliver one of these days."
I'm now packing for my vacation and selecting the books that will come with me -- only a few, as the place where we're going has bookstores I plan to peruse at length. But we'll be taking The Anthologist with us on the trip -- my husband (another Baker fan) is going to read it as soon as I'm done.