Avid Readers A taste for ‘something that says something’

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

“I usually have more than one book going at a time,” says Len Ramsey, this week’s Avid Reader,

Such as?

“Confessions of the Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg.”

Yes, and?

“It’s written by a trans-gender guy, about times in the 1700s in Britain. It’s about a thief who is good at escaping detention. He was sold by his mother.”

The book is a work of fiction, which Ramsey learned of by monitoring the New York Times book review section online. That’s how he gets a lot of his reading ideas – there and on Amazon.

“I also use the library quite a lot,” he says.

That would be the inter-library loan system, which allows library members to log in, search thousands of titles and order what they like; the system then delivers it for pick-up at your local branch. In fact that’s where he got Confessions of the Fox, after the NYT alerted him to it.

As for that other book he’s reading at the same time, it’s a novel by Dan Chaon called ‘Ill Will.’

“It’s about a kid whose dad’s parents adopt a juvenile delinquent.”

It might be too early to identify a theme in Ramsey’s reading, but in fact societal dysfunction features strongly in the books he chooses.

“I like something that says something about what’s going on in the world,” he says. “I do like novels that depict a lifestyle that isn’t my own.”

His own at the moment is that of a retired schoolteacher with a lot of reading time on his hands. He doesn’t appear to be wasting it. He also writes reviews of books and has dozens of them on Amazon.

Other recent reads?

“Bearskin: a novel,’ is one. “It’s about a guy who takes care of a nature preserve in the Appalachians.”

Ramsey says he does “get excited about a writer,” occasionally and will read several books by that author. One of those is Thomas Mullen, who wrote ‘Lightning Men,’ about the introduction of black officers into the police force of Atlanta Georgia in the 1950s.

The social/political/racial conflicts in our neighbour to the south crop up often in the Ramsey library. He finds that stuff fascinating, he says, which was one reason he chose Paul Beatty’s outrageous social satire ‘The Sellout’ for a recent book club read.

What else?

Well, humour (which ‘The Sellout’ also fits). He mentions John King and Bill Bryson.

“I really like his travel writing.”

Speaking of travelling and books, Ramsey says another thing he likes reading is books about a place he is planning on visiting. Earlier this year before a trip to Egypt he read two books on the country. One was ‘Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to the Muslim Brotherhood,’ by Tarek Osman.

Ramsey says he likes a good story, but one with a good balance of characterization and plot. He doesn’t go in much for mysteries (murder or otherwise), although he makes an exception for Elmore Leonard.

“His characterizations are good,” Ramsey says. “His books deal with the underbelly of society.”

Ramsey’s interest in philosophical stuff started early. He remembers being impressed as a high school student with Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead.’ He now regards the ideas of the book as “stupid,” but was struck by them then.

“After that I got interested in existentialism,” he says, mentioning the French authors Sartre and Camus. And it “wasn’t a huge leap from existentialism to Zen Buddhism.” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, was a starting point for that.

A question about Canadian authors results in an awkward pause, but then a breakthrough;

“I do like Robertson Davies,” he says, “and I really like Rohinton Mistry.”

And a lot more besides, but this story is getting a little too long – not unlike Ramsey’s reading history.

If you are an ‘avid reader’ or know someone who is, please let us know.

Len Ramsey

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