Field Tested Books

If you recall, I like books about books; yes I do. Well what do you know? A local company has churned out a sweet book about books. Coudal Partners, a West Loop company that does design, publishing, and other things, has some pretty cool content on their site. You can go to their Museum of Online Museums, purchase some letter pins, or participate in a design contest. Neato.

But the best thing they have is clearly Field Tested Books. They canvass their friends and colleagues occasionally for book reviews; but they aren’t reviews as much as they are stories about the place and context in which the books were read. They post them all online, but they’ve put together a really attractive paperback version. I had to have it. Here is how Coudal and the crew couch this little project (from the back jacket):

The Field-Tested Books project is our version of the Heisenberg principle: reading a certain book in a certain place uniquely affects a person’s experience with both.

The writing you’ll find here is grounded in that idea.

You won’t find any book reviews here.

You’ll find reviews of experience.

It’s likely you’ll also find an unexpected recommendation or two for planning your next trip.

Pack carefully, Books are heavy.

That, my friends, is cool. I got a few ideas for books to read, but more importantly there are some keen insights into reading. For example, try this:

That’s not what happens when you see a movie that was shot in your neighborhood. Movies sprinkle a bit of glitter on every block. Books don’t. Movies glamorize; books – good books – reveal. That’s bitter medicine to spoon into a high school kid. No wonder young people don’t read. (page 49, by Randy Cohen)

But here’s a view by another writer that’s not necessarily in line with Cohen:

Books can color the world, and under the influence of Hugo, France took on almost mythical proportions and made even the winter in Brittany less bleak than epic-seeming, a noble struggle. Which, as low as I’d been, was a deliverance. (page 112, Lauren Groff)

Or how about this:

… Also (I’m fairly certain of this) that I’ve made some pretty shabby decisions as to how to use my time on earth.

That’s why we read, I think: to find better decisions. (page 87, by Steve Almond)

And this too:

I don’t expect to reach that Babe Ruthian mark, but nonetheless, I am always sure to have at least one book with me, stanching the possibilities of lapsing into the fugue state known in modern times as “going postal” as I encounter life’s little delays. I feel it necessary to point all of this out because, for the most part, reading tends to be an open portal away from the many mundane circumstances in which I find myself. (page 125, by Robert Birnbaum)

Okay, there’s more. Here’s a guy talking about how much he loves the Spenser mystery novels:

… But while I can’t recall the plots to any of the books I read that trip, I met a fictional friend I still meet up with every year or so. I don’t travel much, but as cliché as it sounds, when I want to ‘get away from it all,’ I still reach for a good book about someone who’s been murdered. (page 159, by Mark Bazer)

Oh yeah, what about a guy reading The Adventures of Huck Finn in the back seat of a car during an 18 hour trip from Pittsburgh to Bradenton?:

… I even remember the moment that I put it together that we were on a journey south, same as Huck and Jim. I’m a little embarrassed to write that now; it’s so obvious and irrelevant and sentimental, but at the time it was revelation. As the southern landscape rolled past in my peripheral vision, I felt an immersive thrill I could never get from television or movies. (page 166, Kevin Guilfoile)

Each experience is anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to a page-and-a-half. I need to make a note to come back to it. It is rich with some books I want to read, as well as some interesting web links.