Month: November 2014

25 Nov 2014

books for the bookish: my christmas wishlist

This will come as news to no man, but I am a bit of a “heavy reader.” Since I moved to Boston, books have slowly encroached upon all available physical and mental space that I will allow them. The Boy entertained a house-guest a few years back who had never visited our shared living situation. He was a well-educated, intellectual-type of a house-guest – a reader himself – and his first words upon entering our apartment? “Wow. So, you have a ton of books.” That was at least three years ago – the reading situation has not yet improved. It’s gotten to the point where my reputation precedes myself: there are plenty of The Boy’s coworkers who I have not yet met, folks who only know me from what information my dear husband decides to share. And they all know that I read. They wish they could read as much as me.

Brag brag brag. I’m a superhuman book demolishing machine. Moving along. I am an obviously superior being, but you know what? It also probably sucks to buy me – or any other heavy readers – a holiday gift. You probably want to buy them a book, but how in the world can you select a book for someone who reads 10 to 20 books a month? You can’t keep up with what they’ve read, they’ve probably become so choosy they will poo-poo your selection, or they are so caught up in their own reading agendas that they will never read the book you’ve so carefully chosen. I suffer so much from this last problem that some of my relatives have given up buying me books at all. This makes me sad, both because I love receiving new books and because I am a horrible, ungrateful gift receiver.


So what do you buy the overly well-read? The library card wielder? The girl with the overstuffed bookshelves?

Well, for me, I have a few specific types of books that I would be happy to see under the tree this year. First off, there are The Long Books – the books that I could never hope to finish before their due date. My tastes are not particular here – mainstream literary fiction with a splash of series fantasy. Anything on a recent Best Fiction of the Year list that is over 500 pages will usually do – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell are all on my mind this year.

Then we have The Slow Books – the books that don’t lend themselves to straight-through reading, the meaty books, the reference books. The books I’d rather savor, or mark up with pencil, or generally take my time with. Books I’ll likely never read unless they are sitting in my apartment, reminding me to revisit them. The come in a few breeds. The Essays: Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The Creative-Life-Stories: Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Patti Smith’s Just Kids. The Short Stories: Alice Munro’s, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The Children’s Lit-ish: Gail D. Nordstrom’s Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books, or Leonard Marcus’s Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

And finally, there are The Collectibles. And by collectible I don’t mean anything precious, anything special or first-edition. I just mean those books that you wonder why on earth you don’t own. Last year, I received a beautiful Song of Ice and Fire box set that still delights me to gaze upon. This year, I’m wondering why on earth I don’t own a single Harry Potter book.

You see how I have cleverly packaged my holiday wishlist into a tasteful blog post? Sneaky. But really, it’s probably best if nobody bought me a book, ever. See those bookshelves up there? Do you see any available space? No. Will I be able to squeeze any of these books into my likewise jam-packed reading schedule? Probably not. Don’t buy me a book. Especially if it’s a mass-market paperback. Ick. I do prefer the trade paperback when possible. Ahem.

10 Nov 2014

reading wishlist: re-reads

This morning, The Boy so kindly informed me that 2015 is almost over. Just what I like to think about before 7 a.m. Sixty-ish days remain in the calendar year – for the Internet-Bookish, this means a lot of talk about book awards, end of the year lists, Nanowrimo, and perhaps the meeting of one’s reading goals before the clock strikes 2015.

We are all trying to answer the same question: how, exactly, do you measure a reading year?

As y’all are probably aware, I dabble in most methods of book monitoring. I keep two Internet lists of books I have read, and more offline tally sheets than I’d prefer to admit to. I run my little Best Reads feature to celebrate the top X% of my reading year. Last year I dabbled with other quantitative measurements in chart form. I like keeping track of what I read – I’ve found the you manage what you measure axiom to hold true in my own life. But at the same time, I’m interested in reading like a professional. I want to avoid falling into ruts, be they spells of not reading, spells of reading only what I like and nothing that stretches my boundaries, or spells of reading without critical engagement.

You manage what you measure, yes, but how you measure your data implies your value system. Measuring your reading life by pages or books read can be fun or useful or harmless, but what does it say about how you value books and your reading time? If pages are constantly whipping by you, if you move straight from one book to the next, then do you have enough time to give that book your full consideration? What’s more important: finishing books or getting something out of them?

I’m still parsing all of this out in my own life. I’ve talked about slowing down my reading, I try to be intentional with the books I choose to give my time, and I always take into consideration the circumstances under which I read a book before I evaluate it. But my daily life and hobbies and side gigs do require a certain amount of speedy-ish reading, so that’s also a circumstance I have to get used to. Training myself to slow down might make me a better reader, but there’s a limit to how slow I can go.

I have been taking a few steps to engage my critical reading facilities. I don’t have the time or mental energy to write full-blown book reviews here with any regularity, but I do force myself to write a few sentences about most of the books I read on Goodreads. I’ve got a new book-notetaking habit that I’ll tell you about soon. I’m still taking my reading lunches, which seem simple and a little silly but have become a very important part of my schedule – the only time I step away from the rest of my life and make intentional time for close reading.

And maybe that is the difference between the kind of reader I am and the kind of reader I’d like to be: it’s not about reading this kind of book or that kind of book, not about making my Goodreads goal or finishing X book before Y happens. It’s about time. Putting in the hours versus the pages.

Carving out time for dedicated reading is one way to make your reading more about time and attention rather than accomplishment. Another, I think is one of my very favorite reading habits: re-reading. Re-reading nearly doubles the time you spend thinking about one single book. You pick up things you might have missed the first time. Since you know all of the plot turns ahead of time, your brain might begin to churn in new ways in order to entertain itself. It’s not the most obvious way to refocus your reading, but I think it’s an easy one and an important one.

And for me, it’s just downright enjoyable. If I had my druthers, I’d kick most of my reading list to the curb in favor of re-reading everything I’ve ever loved. So now that you’ve sat through me blathering on, here is a quick list of some books I’ve been meaning to revisit, either because I feel they might still have something to teach me or just for the pleasure of it. Or both.