Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You know what happens when one assumes?

This is really a post about a larger issue and a specific author and book. A few weeks back Tom was paging through some catalogs for Spring new titles and came across a book entitled "Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence" by Bill James. There is the Bill James who basically invented the world of uber-geek baseball statisticians that is now so popular. And there is a Bill James who writes mysteries. So, naturally, I assumed the crime book was written by the latter. And, of course, I was wrong. A fine reminder on a number of levels not to make simple assumptions about books and their writers and readers.

In fact, all serious readers that I've gotten to know fairly well have an area of interest or fascination or even obsession that wouldn't be known at first glance. There was once an on-line journal, Readerville, that had an entire section called 'The Odd Shelf' where people discussed their odd areas of interest. Or, more accurately, interests that might not be odd in themselves but in terms of their other reading interests. It was always my favorite section to peruse because it allowed people to let their guard down and offered fantastic tips for books I otherwise never would have known about.

Lots of people once had hang-ups about admitting that they liked mystery novels or suspense. The quality of that genre, in general, has gotten better so the stigma(often self-imposed) isn't what it once was. Lots of folks cop to reading cookbooks but never actually cooking from them. Armchair travel is very popular. The thing is, now that I really think about it, I know readers of all kinds who feel sheepish about admitting to liking almost any kind of book. "Oh, it's crazy, but I like architecture/urban planning books." I heard that one yesterday. Why is it crazy?

For me it's the greatest power of books. It affords all of us the chance to learn about whatever we want. Or enjoy whatever we want. I can't change the oil on my car--but I could learn to do it and that would shock my friends. Yet, ten years ago, I couldn't cook at all. Nothing beyond toast or noodles with butter and black pepper. Now I can. I was a horrible science student but I love animal biology. I have shelves of books on wolves, grizzly bears and pumas. Tigers have been the latest added into the mix. Even I can't remember how that started. I also do enjoy true crime and gangster history especially in relation to Minnesota. So this new Bill James book is right in my wheelhouse.

"Popular Crime will remind you of just how wonderful a writer Mr. James is. Incisive analysis and encyclopedic knowledge tempered by a sometimes morbid, but never jaded, dose of Americana: it's sabermetrics meets the Coen Brothers."
-- Nate Silver

That quote hooked me. What's on your Odd Shelf?

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