Friday, May 21, 2021

What's Your Reading Style?

What makes up your reading life?

Reading and stories have always been a part of me.

My mom used to tell me that even when I was very little, I'd disappear into my room and she'd find me there with a stack of books. There are pictures of it. I also still have vivid memories of sitting along the stone path at my Grandparents' house, plucking individual rocks from it and then telling elaborate stories about what item it used to be before a witch turned it into a stone. (The Wizard of Oz did a number on me.) I'd even make any available adult set up yard chairs to listen to me - like I was a one-child circus. I just loved stories....history, magic, excitement.

My reading habits dwindled for a little while. My childhood was good, but not without struggle, and I internalized SO much of my life (and, ya know, developed anxiety) and I'm not great with books when that happens. Mix in the pressures of school (the structure of which did not suit me), and I wanted nothing to do with "extra work". I remember a few series from that time, but it had stopped being a priority.

In High School, it was much of the same, but then I found a...wait for it....Buffy the Vampire Slayer series that was basically fanfic turned novels and I got heavily into those. Anything for more time with Angel.

In college, my friends and I were pretty innocent. We'd sometimes hop the border to Canada where the legal drinking age is 19 and have a hilarious night of arcade games after a few Mike's hard lemonades. But other nights, we'd swing by the grocery store and pick up smutty romance novels and take them to Denny's where we'd sit and eat french fries and oreo milkshakes until 3am - laughing about the hilarious ways they described uh, unmentionables. 

Eventually, a friend gave me a Nicholas Sparks novel to try, and I was off to the races.

(I had a whole moment with Nicholas Sparks. I've read all of his novels to date, stood in a ridiculously long line to get a picture with him, and even had him sign my DVD copy of The Notebook. He's not my bookish standard anymore but, once upon a time.)

In my early 20's, I was obsessed with getting reacquainted with libraries and shopping at quirky used book stores that always had a resident cat. I realized I wanted IN on cultural phenomenons like Harry Potter and Twilight. I found myself swept up in the joys of a beautiful cover and revisiting familiar characters through a series and waking up my brain in multiple ways by pairing books with my morning coffee. I even spent my earliest days as a brand new mom, endlessly reading books as my newborn slept beneath them in my lap. And since then, my love has only expanded.

But it's also evolved. Because reading is just something can never finish.

A couple months before the pandemic hit, Matt and I went out for a date night that inevitably lead us to getting Starbucks and roaming around Barnes & Noble. I was over the moon - just getting to wind myself up and down the aisles and linger on anything that caught my eye. And then I got sad.

Matt noticed and asked me what was up. I didn't know at first. I poked at this feeling and asked myself how I could possibly be feeling it in Barnes & Noble of all places, and then it dawned on me.

"I'm just, low-key sad that I'll never have time for all the books I want to read."

He responded in the most romantic way imaginable.

Matt: Don't worry, I think this is what we'll do when we retire.
Me: What is?
Matt: Reading a crap ton of books together. Building a private library.
Me: Promise?
Matt: Hell yeah.

Sigh, dream boat. But that's not the point.

The point is that on that day, I officially became choosey. My own version of a book snob. Not because I'm some experienced critic or literary genius. But because no matter how organized or diligent I get, new books are released every single week and I will never, ever, despite my best efforts, catch up.

I'm constantly trying to just read the books I have - but then all of these brilliant, hilarious, intelligent, incredible authors put out these gorgeous books that I cannot pass up. My reading plans change constantly.

And as I've gone from a 50 book/year reader to an 80 book/year reader to striving to be a 100 book/year reader - I may have increased my options, but not nearly as far as I'd like to while still, ya know, living my life. On the other hand, when you read that much, you start to feel a little bit like....wait, shouldn't I be reading more of the intellectual award winners and classics? It's hard not to feel like with that many books under your belt, people will expect that you've read everything that's well known. (Not that I care what "people" expect of me.)

But here's the truth for me.

I love books for what they teach me and challenge me to explore. But I also want most of them to make me feel a certain way. I want to revel in the good stuff. In the excitement of adventure and the satisfaction of new love. In the angst of coming of age. In the complexities of the human condition. In the absolute gorgeousness of the world. 

At the same time, I don't like hanging out in the dark side for long or being strung along in suspense simply for the sake of suspense. So while the new best selling thriller might have most readers rabid with enthusiasm, I don't feel like I have time to work something I don't love-love-love into my already overflowing reading agenda.

Which means that my reading style is basically made up of this.

A Crap Ton of Contemporary Romances
+ A Whole Bunch of YA Romances
+ A Big Heap of Spiritual and Self-Help that get it
+ A Smattering of Contemporary Fiction by my MVP authors
   (like Fredrik Backman and Taylor Jenkins Reid)
+ The occasional classic or cultural phenomenon
+ A pinch of pushing out of my usual tastes through BOTM picks
80-100 Books A Year

The bulk of what I run my eyeballs over is full of love and longing and the right brand of angst. I also start every morning by working through some sort of spiritual or self-help education to make sure that I'm always learning and growing and expanding. And then between it all, I get my bursts of the contemporary literary hype - while feeling zero guilt or regrets by telling the very popular thrillers and murder novels to take a hike. 

The librarian at my kids' elementary school is such a cool person to know. I had a conversation with her once about adults who like young adult and children's lit as much as their intended audience (a sentiment we both wholeheartedly subscribed to). She told me that when she had to choose a concentration and decide which type of librarian to be, she chose to work with literature geared towards young people because of the nature of their stories. She'd said something like, "Literature for adults is all murder and adultery and depression. Why would I want to make that my job?! Books for younger people are about magic and love and growth."

I would have made the same choice.

It really comes down to what we want to spend our time on when we get to indulge in books. What words are we drinking in? What feelings are we seeking? What lessons are we hoping to learn?

So what about you?
Have you gotten choosey with books? Do you get harsh with what makes the cut?
Are there types you don't bother with because there's just too many to read?

And do your picks make the cut because they make you feel a certain way? Or is it something else?

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