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I haven't read a lot of Kingsolver, but after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I enjoyed with reservations, I could absolutely see her taking a bit of a sniffy attitude about books that aren't "edifying." She strikes me as the sort of person who wants what she doing to be meaningful and comes across as insisting on giving your full passion to whatever you're doing. I can get behind that to a point--for me, though, it's a recipe for burnout.

I do, however, agree that we shouldn't waste time on books we aren't getting something out of (whether it's entertainment or edification) when there are better, more effective books we could spend our time on.


Lovely interesting post..much food for thought...How much time should one spend on a book or a story to give it a fair chance (or our selves a fair chance to appreciate them) some books don't taste quite right ..a bit like a cake that you almost like but doesn't quite work on some level. An example for me being MC Beaton's stories, they don't quite work for me.. but I wish they would as they have potential... it's interesting where critical judgment and personal taste meet/overlap/conflict with each other.. sorry if this isn't clear but my attention is being demanded to look at a toy princess poodle by youngest and a dinosaur that's meant to grow when you put it in water oldest... sometimes I think I live in relaxed chaos..sometimes you can leave out the but it is generally fun so I'm very lucky.

(btw ...I owe you an email...sorry I'm so tardy... the kids/house got fluey colds and I got all behind..! actually I think I spend my life playing catch-up and never quite making and I fill in the gaps with good books and chocolate)


Teresa--I really do like Barbara Kingsolver, but as I was reading I was thinking how I am not as discerning as I probably should be (sometimes I do like something mindless though I don't want it to be badly written--if that makes sense) and I was thinking she would probably be shaking her head at me. She admits to asking a lot from books and I have no problem with that but I'm not sure I could constantly be challenged without needing some sort of break or palate cleanser! I am getting better at giving up on books that are just not doing anything for me, and then a book comes along and is really stellar and you wonder why aren't all books like this!
Val--You are absolutely fine--if anyone knows about being behind (especially with blog reading and emails) it's me, and I don't even have a good excuse like having children to take care of! And I think I know what you mean--being excited about reading something, knowing that it has been acclaimed in some way or well reviewed and then you just don't like it. I have just had that experience with a book recently myself! I especially am disappointed when it's a matter of a classic or some literary novel that everyone has praised and then I just don't enjoy I wonder what happened or what I am doing wrong!

Dorothy W.

Interesting! I've read Kingsolver's fiction, but not her essays, and this one sounds good. I do enjoy reading writers on writing! It sounds like I wouldn't really agree with some of her conclusions about what's worth spending time on -- I'd love to read nothing but classics all the time, but I can't do it because it's tiring. What Teresa says about burnout sounds exactly right. I need some variety!


This sounds so intriguing. I've read all of her novels except for the most recent, which reminds me I shouls get that, but I would love to read this one too.

Nancy Dwinell

I'll probably be odd man out here but one of Kingsolver's own books didn't make my hundred page cut off! I just could not read Poisonwood Bible---and I certainly did try! It was the first book I allowed myself to stop reading. I always felt that I had to at least finish a book even if I didn't want to. I finally gave up on that one and it was actually liberating. I agree with Dorothy. I'd love to read all the classics but sometimes I just need a cozy mystery! I'm not sure Kingsolver would be someone I'd get along with. NancyD.


I haven't really been able to get into short stories as a form myself but I do love essays and poetry. If you do decide to try poetry next year (or ever) I highly recommend American Life in Poetry ( They send you a poem a week via email with a brief introduction. The poems are all fairly "accessible" and short. I think it would be a great intro to poetry for you.


I have really enjoyed a lot of Kingsolver's books, but never read any of her essays. And as I'm not usually appreciative of short stories, perhaps this is one I should peruse well!

Buried In Print

Her collection High Tide in Tucson is quite wonderful too; I'm certain you would love the essay in there about her love of libraries. I'm really looking forward to The Lacuna, though simultaneously dreading that I'll have no more of her work waiting in the wings.


Wonderful entry.
I love reading about writing and when writers talk, I am intensely curious about what they have to say about writing as well as their dislikes and measures. This resonated on many level, not the least of which means a trip to a bookstore or somewhere to look at "Small Wonder." And I need to re-visit my copy of "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek."
thanks for this - has added wonderfully to a lovely un-scheduled Sunday!


I would love to read Kingsolver's essays - or indeed any of her books. She's been on my list for ages. Funnily enough I've just read Dorothy's post about a critic prescribing what literature 'should' be, and I feel the same about this one: a critic's personal preference really shouldn't be enlarged into a dictate about what all books ought to do. We all like and appreciate different things (I know I love variety) and that for me is the real beauty of our rich and wide-ranging book world.


Dorothy--I'd like to read more of her essays--I borrowed the book from my library and may check out her other essay collection as well. I enjoyed what she had to say about, but I wasn't entirely in agreement, but that's okay. I love reading classics, too but I need variety--even books that are just pure comfort reads or beach books occasionally.
Verity--I'd like to read more of her essays--I just picked the one that appealed the most at the moment. And I'd like to read her new book eventually, too. I've heard many good things about it.
Nancy--I think it is absolutely fine to be the odd man out and some of her work appeals to me more than others. I am getting better about setting books aside that I am just not enjoying and you are right it really is a liberating feeling--there is nothing worse than feeling like you are slogging through a book that is supposed to be enjoyable! Kingsolver has some definite ideas about things and I'm not sure I would always agree, but it is interesting getting her perspective.
Kathy--I don't pick up short stories as often as I would like to, but I do enjoy them now and then. And I used to never read them, it's only recently that I've become interested in trying them. Thanks for that poetry link--that sounds like exactly what I need. A few poets I do like and feel comfortable reading their work, but others I feel like I am missing something. If you like poetry have you read Nicholson Baker's new book The Anthologist--I really enjoyed it and he talks a lot about poetry.
Jeane--This is a short essay if you decide to look for the book and it was very interesting and almost as much about reading in general. I think I'll have to look for her other book of essays now.
Buried in Print--My library has that one as well, so I will look for it tomorrow! I love reading essays about books and reading, so that one sounds perfect. And I'm also looking forward to her new book. My library is supposed to have it, but when I went looking it wasn't on the shelf! Just as well as I have plenty of other books to read at the moment.
Oh--This is a short essay and you can easily read it when you're in the bookstore to see if the book is for you. I also love reading about other peoples (authors and readers in general) experiences with books. And I've never read any Annie Dillard but have Pilgrim at Tinker Creek so will be digging it out as well!
Litlove--I've enjoyed the books I've read by Kingsolver and expect I'll check out some of her other books as well. I thought the quote in Dorothy's post was interesting as well. I guess when it comes to critics they each have their spin on what's right or wrong or important or not. I tend to not really agree when an author or critic makes sweeping statements like that--you should only read...sorts of things, because I like being able to try lots of different books, too.


I've not read Kingsolver's nonfiction before either even though I have heard high praise of it. The essay sounds good even if the reader can't agree with everything she says. I'm going to have to put this book on my library list.


Stefanie--I think really is rare that all readers agree on all books--what fun would that be, right? But the impetus behind reading and selecting books is usually common ground, so it doesn't matter if tastes differ. I think you'd like her essay, by the way. I like her chatty style.


Thanks for posting about Small Wonder. I've had it in my TBR pile for years. I'm going to take it with me to the beach this week-end and force myself to make some head-way. I like your assertion that we look for and need different things from books at different times. That is so true. Enjoy reading your posts!

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