17 Mar 2014

reading proclivities

I have been reading the same handful of books for too long. I feel mired in a book swamp, like I will never finish these books and will be trying, feebly, to finish them until the day I die.

Oh, the drama.

I have nothing against the books I am reading, nope. They are all fine.

Sure, none of them are yanking me away from my other obligations. But I don’t expect all the books I read to appeal to me like that. I think it’s valuable to read books specifically because they don’t yank on me, actually. Reading outside my tastes is a valuable endeavor, personally and professionally. If I only read books that I thought I would like then I would just re-read the same 10 Pink-Covers for the rest of my life. That is not the kind of reader I aspire to be.

However, feeling as swampy as I am, I think my currently reading selection is lacking a certain balance.

I do read multiple books at once. This horrifies many people, but I have been doing it for so many years I can’t really even adequately justify myself anymore. It’s like asking why I prefer a certain spoon with their cereal. It’s just the spoon I like, okay? What does it even matter? But more importantly, I can’t stop reading multiple books at once because that would require finishing EVERYTHING I’m reading until I’m just reading One Single Book and that just gives me the heebie-jeebies. Blargh.

I don’t like to read too many books, though. Instead of actually FINISHING any of the books I am currently reading, I’ve thought intently about what amalgamation of books I would prefer to be reading at once and how I might better devise my reading in the future.

You know, after these five books kill me. Beyond the grave reading planning. Yes, sir, it’s that kind of week.

1. The Audiobook

Let’s start with the most obvious: I like to have an audiobook on deck. This is a practical habit – I do a lot of my reading while commuting… but since moving across town, my commute includes more walking, more transferring trains, and more Rush Hour, Can’t Get a Seat or Hold A Book Without Whapping Someone in the Face stuff. I keep my headphones in and use that lovely little white headphone clicker to instantly apply an audiobook when needed.

(That is the Yuppie reason why I like to always have an audiobook. The real reason is that I like to fall asleep listening to a book, and I am freakishly anxious about sleeping and potential insomnia. I will actually listen to ANY audiobook at this point while I try to go to sleep, but it’s better when it’s something I’m, you know, actually into).

I am fairly picky about what I listen to on audio, but that is a much longer post for a much longer day. If I can’t find anything new to listen to, I am perfectly content to listen to books I’ve liked in the past or revisit some old audio favorites. It doesn’t matter. I just like to have a book to shove in my ears when I want to shove other stuff out.

Right now, I am listening to Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black, which is definitely a good listen, but is due back on the 21st. I should really stop [insert whatever bullshit distraction I am inventing for myself] and get on it.

2. The eBook

This is also an obvious category, but a new one for me! I have made the delightful discovery that yes, I can read an eBook on my iPhone WHILE I am running on the treadmill. And I actually prefer it over other While You Run entertainments (except, perhaps, watching Girls).

I am running 3-5 times a week right now, so I like to have something ready to read on my phone at all times. I don’t read very *quickly* on the treadmill, however, so I can’t check anything out from the library using Overdrive without it expiring on me. This leaves me with the wide, wide world of egalleys.

Another comment that could be a particularly lengthy blog post: I have to choose what egalleys I read carefully. Whether or not I am running, I typically end up reading egalleys on my phone, and I’ve had some markedly mixed results. Some books I am completely disinterested in, but if I read on my larger Kindle, I’m fine. Some books I can barely even understand… but if I check out the hard copy, I’m totally into them. I naturally read galleys with a bit of an evaluative intent, so I think it would irresponsible of me to read a book in a format or setting that would color my judgment.

I haven’t really tried to pin down which books work and which ones don’t, but I suspect it has to do with language style and sentence length. Right now I am reading Geoff Herbach’s Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders which I am finding definitely e-Readable.

3. The Backburner Book

The Backburner Book is the book that sits at my house rather than coming with me in my purse. It’s the book I read a bit of before bed or with my coffee in the morning. It’s the book that I return to when my other books aren’t quite suiting me. It’s the book that I’d rather savor than rush through.

A Backburner Book is often a comfort read – a little life-raft book in case you hate what you are reading but also everything else about your existence on this earth. Comforting reading, for me, is often re-reading. A re-read makes for a good Backburner because you can dip in from time to time without confusion or recaps.

Easy reading
in general can also be comforting. We all have our authors/genres/topics that give us immediate gratification – books that don’t ask too much from us. Mine tends toward nonfiction. Hippy-dippy self-help, mostly, but also books about food and writing. My current Back Burner read – Daily Rituals: How Artists Work – fits very neatly into this category. The sections are short and discrete, ideal for quick reading spells but nothing longer.

On the flipside, certain books hit the Backburner because they take so damn long to read that if I read them exclusively then I’d be reading the same book for months. Which, we have now learned, makes me feel swampy and also compelled to write really lengthy blog posts about things that aren’t terribly relevant to other humans. I’d like to tackle more long reads by throwing them on my backburner, though. I read Octavian Nothing this way once and found it quite gratifying. (Maybe I should start with Part II? Not having read the second half of Octavian’s story is becoming an area of my deepest reading shame…)

4. The Primary Read

Last but definitely not least… there’s the Primary Read. Otherwise known as “The Book You Are Reading.” If you are leaving the house, this is the book you grab. If your fun bookish friend asks you what you are reading, this is the answer you give.

If you are a single book reader, then this is the only category for you. Keep it simple! That’s a good thing!

If you are a multi-book reader, then this book could just be whatever book you are reading that doesn’t fall into any other category – whatever other categories your books fall into. It could also be a book that started as a treadmill egalley or an audiobook but then got REALLY good REALLY fast and has graduated to your Primary Read. Or you might just have a little pool of uncategorized semi-read books and your Primary Read is the one that suits you that day.

For me, the Primary Read is often:

  • The new YA book
  • The book I’m reading for book club
  • The book I’m reading for review
  • A particularly hot galley
  • Whatever else my little heart desires
  • Whichever book is due back first.

This is where I am getting stalled up. I have TWO Primary Reads. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, which is both strange and beautiful. It reminds me of those lovely, lyrical family dramas you find in adult lit – a less lengthy Middlesex with a younger spirit. I am also reading Lorrie Moore’s short story collection, Bark, which is a little difficult to convince myself to get into, but once I do the prose just… carries me all the way, like I’m on a tide.

But I’ve been reading both for weeks. WEEKS. I feel like my disinterest in reading compounds when there are TWO books to choose from, especially when neither provide The Yank that inspires me into a reading frenzy.


In conclusion, I need to stop micromanaging my reading life and just finish a dang book already.

And then finish another one.

And then only start reading another one if I have an open slot.

And not read more than four.

Forever and ever amen.

P.S. How the heck do YOU read? You are probably normal and just… you know… read. If you do something weird, though, fess up!!


  1. Amanda wrote:

    Boring person here. One book at a time please. 🙂

    I wish I could handle an audiobook (for my commute/walks) + a paper book (for all the other times), but my brain is just not equipped for that.

    Posted on 3.17.14 · Reply to comment
  2. Kathy wrote:

    Audio book for walks and falling asleep – currently The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. A before bed book, currently Doctor Sleep. An ebook for when I turn out the lights –
    currently King John and the short story Wolverton Station. And then I have a book or two I try to read during the day – either a classic or a non-fiction about history or science, currently Foundation and Walking Zero. And there’s usually another novel I’m reading during the day – although not right now.

    Posted on 3.18.14 · Reply to comment
  3. Sherry wrote:

    Usually one of my many library books takes priority because they have to be returned eventually, and if I don’t read them I might never get back to them and I might miss something really wonderful and ARGH!

    SO I have all of these books that I’ve downloaded to the Kindle and all of these books that I’ve bought or been given, and I can’t get to them because my library books HAVE to be read. No audiobooks for me. I can’t focus on audiobooks.

    Posted on 3.18.14 · Reply to comment

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