What do you do when life gets in the way and your powers of concentration evaporate?  Or you find it impossible to lose yourself in your latest novel during a short lunch break?

I’ve taken to browsing through a trio of non-fiction books that seem specifically designed to accommodate my need for something sharp and snappy.   While I’m unlikely to read any of these cover-to-cover, I do see myself returning to them time and time again.

Poisoned Pens Edited by Gary Dexter

There’s a lot of soul-searching in blogland regarding the subject of negative reviews.   There’s certainly none of that in this compendium of negative reviews of the great and the greatest.  The reviews are organised by literary time period.  So whether you want to research contempt for the classics, rancour for the Romantics, venom for the Victorians or malice for the Moderns, the choice is yours. Chuckle or seethe with indignation at the abuse dished out to writers from their fellows and learn how to turn negative into scathing.

Right now my favourite is influenced by my recent experience of Jane Austen’s Emma.  Mark Twain may have been writing about Pride and Prejudice but he’s got my feelings down pat.

I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them …. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice (substitute Emma) I want to dig Austen up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Should You Judge This Book By Its Cover? – Julian Baggini

The short answer is no.  Because you’ll be mighty disappointed if you’re expecting a discussion on the most glorious book covers around.  Instead Baggini discusses in short pieces of 1.5 pages or less, the wisdom (or lack of it) in 100 familiar sayings or quotations.  To be more precise:  the lack of wisdom inherent in repeating these sayings without understanding the subtleties, without looking under the hood or even without reading the book. (The title says it all.) That’s why the pieces are short enough to raise sufficient questions to fuel further thought.    So you can decide for yourself, whether you believe que sera, sera (I don’t) or that the exception proves the rule (as a linguist, I do!).  As for whether it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, I’m undecided and need to ponder further on the matter.  Baggini’s book is obviously achieving its objectives with me.

Read This Next … And Discover Your 500 New Favourite Books – Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark

According to my librarything catalogue I have a TBR of over 1000!  So I won’t be using this book for further book recommendations.  I will be using it, however, to flush out some forgotten titles to the top of the TBR and to remind myself about books read and enjoyed long ago.  There’s a short synopsis of each title of 120 featured titles and a number of discussion questions, often supplemented by useful background information or complimentary reading lists (to make up the 500). The book can be used for reading groups or simply to help deepen individual reading.  What differentiates this book from others such as The Bloomsbury Reading Group Guide, however, is its tone.  Zany, madcap, irreverent and perhaps at times, simply inappropriate?  How do you find this question in relation to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

In a sense these clones are on easy street – hardly any work, a good education, a free car, no financial worries.  Did you ever find yourself wishing you were in their shoes?  Would it be nice to live in a poetic state of looming tragedy, while reading magazines and loafing?  Some people have all the luck, right?

So is that a question designed to shock or is there a legitimate discussion to be had?  It’s not exactly my approach to the hallowed sanctum of literature but I can see that this may well appeal to *cough* younger generations!  Old fogeydom is approaching ever more rapidly it appears. Perhaps this is exactly what I need to brush out some cobwebs from my mind.