Friday, February 16, 2018
Habits of a Northeastern Bookworm
When I was younger, I read the whole thing because... well, that's just what you do, right? I didn't question much of anything before the age of 13. Including the protocol of reading books. I was a voracious reader, and just plowed through everything I read.
Later on, I still read books all the way through, but more because I was an aspiring writer, and I felt like I should give the author a chance to paint their full picture. I saw a book as a canvas. Sometimes the parts were lesser than the whole, and reading the full book would fill in all the blanks. Sometimes this just meant I wasted time on mediocre books, but other times it was rewarding (Frank Herbert's Dune series for instance).
I tempered this a bit when working at the local library. If a book didn't really grab me, that was okay. I still walked away with an idea of what the author's prose and technique were like, and the themes of the book, so even if I returned the book without finishing, I still had enough of a grasp of it to be helpful to library patrons if they asked me for recommendations.
I also started doing book reviews around this time, and sometimes there just wasn't enough time to linger on a book -- I had to get it done and assessed by the deadline. This really helped me think critically about what I was reading, and why it did or didn't hook me, and what qualities it might (or might not) have that I had to gauge regardless of my personal preferences.
The next step was when I opened my used bookshop. All the skimming skills I picked up at the library had to kick into high gear -- customers weren't borrowing these books for free, so the stakes of recommending books to someone were much higher. I take my job pretty seriously, and I do my best to help my customers spend their money carefully.
These last couple of changes in my reading habits were more on a professional level -- my personal reading stayed on its own track for the most part. I still didn't feel beholden to finish a book if it wasn't grabbing me, but I did give it an honest try in respect to the author and the piece of work.
Then even my personal reading habits changed in response to a series of events. Over the course of a year, I found myself in the position to help dissolve and re-house the personal libraries of two different friends, both of them writers and avid book-lovers, both of whom died suddenly from heart attacks with no warning. I had to handle this professionally, assisting the families with my expertise and heavy labor when they were just coming out of the shock of unexpected bereavement -- coping better but still overwhelmed.
My grief for these two was brought to bear on the number of books they had on their shelves that had obviously not been read yet. I began to think of the number of books I had yet to read, and for a time my reading choices were laser-focused, channeling an urgency I had never felt before.
Thankfully, that urgency has been tempered, because there is nothing like the untrammeled joy of picking up a book and taking it home just because it looks tasty.
It still flares up from time to time, but this is helpful in small bits. It means my "to read" pile gets weeded out on a regular basis to eliminate the flash-in-the-pan appeal of certain books that (to be honest) I know I'll never actually get around to reading.
Instead, I'll add the title to my "To Read" list in case I do want to read it some day in the future when I have time (ha!). This allows me to put the book itself back in circulation freely, without any wistful longing to hang onto it.
I have also stopped making New Years resolutions -- instead I make two or three lists of 10-20 books apiece that I want to read during the year, including a "Books I Should Have Read by Now" list. It's working out pretty great so far -- I'm on my third year of doing this now, with at least a 50% success rate (often more) for each of the little lists.
How do you guys direct your own reading choices to get to the books you wind up actually reading?
(IF you've read this far in my surprisingly long post! Where did all that come from?!)