Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#17: The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading (Phyllis Rose)

on October 28, 2014

Phyllis Rose is an avid reader. During a trip to the New York Society Library to pick up a book recommended by a friend, she realized that the proposed novel was not going to work for her at this time. Now, Rose faced the daunting and overwhelming task of selecting her next book. Rose decided to embark on an expedition of “off-road” reading; she would read her way through a randomly selected shelf of the library.

As she browsed the plethora of shelves, Rose established a few guidelines for her project. The shelf had to include at least one classic novel she had intended to read but had not yet experienced. The shelf had to include multiple authors, with only one author having more than five books represented. Rose would commit to read only three of this author’s works. The shelf that was finally selected was LEQ to LES and contained 30 volumes. The Shelf is a memoir of the books Ms. Rose encountered in her adventure as well as her reflections about writing and all things publishing.

I was first drawn to this memoir because I found the premise so interesting. So much of our reading is influenced by reviews and academia. What wonderful novels have we missed out on simply because they have not been deemed worthy by the elite? What gems might be discovered by daring to venture into uncharted territory?

I especially enjoyed Phyllis Rose’s thoughts on why so few women are considered major literary figures in our society. In the chapter “Women and Fiction: A Question of Privilege,” Rose explores the topic through both contemporary and classic examples. “Libraries: Making Space” revealed much about a book’s life on the shelf. . .and its inevitable removal. In the profound closing chapter, the author explores the qualities a book must exhibit to gain “Immortality.”

The Shelf has inspired me to do some off-road reading myself. I plan to replicate Rose’s experiment after finishing the books on my bedside table. I’m excited to see where this adventure leads in the months ahead.

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