A Reading Fool

I’ve always been a reader.  As a child with limited access to television and nearly weekly trips to the public library, reading was an integral part of my life.  After a trip to the library, I remember sitting around the living room with my sisters and showing each other what we got that week.  I liked to read at night and read in the morning and on vacation with my family.  During the years when we would rent summer cottages ‘Up North’ I would bring a stack of novels and devour nearly one per day.Interestingly, even with all that reading, my taste wasn’t very advanced or literary for my age.  I read most (all?) of all of the requisite teenage book series, inhaled John Grisham, and went through a phase where Dave Barry (the humour columnist) cracked me up to the point of wanting to read passages out loud to people.  I got a few recommendations from my dad, who is himself a very literary reader, but his recommendations were often out of reach for me at those ages – Faulkner was dry and slow (even though I did humour him one summer and read ‘As I Lay Dying’), Shakespeare is still only readable to me in a classroom when I have someone available to decipher it and James Joyce (his favourite) will likely never be at the top of my list.  Sorry, Dad.

Later in life I still find reading a good book one of my favourite pastimes.  In college, when reading for fun is almost always out of the question, I always managed to read for pleasure courtesy of the campus library (let me tell you that no student is ever browsing the fiction section so I had it all to myself!).  I also joined a book club in college and one within months of starting my first job to keep up my reading actively.

It helps me to keep reading prominent in my life when I have goals related to it.  In 2012 I read a whopping 80+ books (my goal was to read 75) but in 2013, when my goal was to only read ‘Infinite Jest,’ I read much less – maybe 30 books in total.  This year my goal is 50.  I think that will allow for plenty of focus on it without the stress levels that came with a goal of 75, and I still have time with a goal of 50 to read a couple longer books, which I avoided in 2012.

The purpose of this post was to discuss how I select what to read, but it’s a pretty unscientific process and easy to describe.  I listen to the New York Times Book Review weekly podcast which gives me ideas and also inspires me to read more.  I like to read award winning books, and have consistently liked the National Book Award winners (and short-listed finalists) over the past 10 years.  I have more mixed results with the Man Booker Prize and the Pulitzer Prize winners for some reason – like some, don’t get excited about others.  I have also consistently enjoyed the notable books that the NYTimes puts together at the end of the year.  I focus on the top 10, but then I’ll expand to the broader top 100 if I run out of juicy choices.  I just finished ‘Life After Life’ which is on the 2013 Top 10 list and loved it.  I have two more that I’m working through now.

Also importantly, here’s where I don’t get good book recommendations.  Bestseller lists, including Amazon Top Sellers and New York Times Bestsellers are usually not my cup of tea – I don’t love mass market novels (a la James Patterson) and those tend to be massive bestsellers all the time.  I have also tried to follow several book bloggers, but I haven’t ever found a person who has similar interests and tastes (and frankly, when people receive advance copies of books for free to review, I’m always a little sceptical of their ability to be honest no matter how they try).  Finally, it’s always good to be wary of a ‘Must Read Before You Die’ list written by, well, anyone.  These lists tend to be heavily filled with classic literature and are usually exercises in pretentiousness, and while I recently enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby (which is probably well-represented on such lists), I definitely do NOT like some classics, especially when I’m reading for pleasure and not a grade.  See note above about childish taste in literature if you need further explanation.

Here’s to a great year of great reads.  I’m loving ‘The Interestings’ by Meg Wolitzer so far, and it’s calling my name.

  • January 18, 2014

    I just finished The Other Boelyn Girl per your recommendation. Loved it!