Welp, let that year of reading be a lesson to me.
Let me explain.
If you scroll back through my past year-end reflections, you’ll see I spent years trying to overcome the “shoulds” that told me to read Canonical classics, literary fiction by Important Mid-Century Men, and other Read This Before We Approve Of You type litmus tests of certain types of bookish communities. Which was awesome, because once freed from that, I just focused on reading books that connected with me, or helped me to escape completely. I discovered an author a year for the past several years that spoke to my core, almost none of whom are Canonical (except Tolstoy, and I don’t think I approach him with near the reverence I’m meant to). Amy Sackville, Elizabeth von Arnim, Tana French, Helen Oyeyemi, those are all products of me giving myself permission to read what speaks to me, not what I should, and they were life changing, and I’m grateful.
But I think I’ve discovered the limits of that approach this year. This year I was almost all indulgent of myself, which was fun sometimes, but overall detrimental. I let myself off the hook for reading a lot of challenging or even mentally engaging things in my free time, in favor of putting energy into work, or things I read for purely professional reasons (which, to be fair, did come with some genuine challenges- I am teaching two entirely new courses this year). This meant I wound up disappointed a lot, I think, even with the lower expectations of knowing that I had deliberately chosen something rather mindless. Several subpar mysteries, and a few romances, some popular book-club books from the last few years that I gave into reading and turned out to be largely letdowns, a couple of middling sci-fis. So that was part of it.
Part two was that I had some genuine misfortunes. Well recommended authors and books that I didn’t like, follow up reads of authors I’d liked before whose next offering didn’t turn out to be quite so good.
Part three is that when I did encounter wonderful reads, I often didn’t have or make time to review them properly. I really questioned why I put the time in to review this year, because after so many years of doing it, I’d lost the perspective of what it added to my life. So I stepped back, to see if I missed it, or if it was another freedom granting thing, where I could just spend more time reading rather than writing about reading, another obligation I could get rid of.
But what I’ve discovered is that I miss it. Yes, writing is hard. Yes, I usually make only rhythms for bears to dance to and rarely music that will melt the stars, but what I’ve discovered is that reading doesn’t add nearly as much to my life without the writing about it. The excellent books’ virtues slipped through my fingers, the middling ones vanished entirely from my memory, and the bad ones weren’t worked through so as to articulate and avoid them in the future. I forgot how much writing reviews and tracking my progress has helped me over the past ten years to change as a person and to keep growing.
While I’ll never go back to making obligatory lists for myself and pushing myself up the mountain of Must Reads Before You Die, I will return to processing what I do read, and to taking a little more care once again, that what I’m reading is worth my time or at least what I very much need at that particular moment. Reading can’t be all indulgent for me. If I’m not actively reading, it becomes no better than binge watching a not-very-good show for me.
More importantly, I lose a major driver of change. Books are a big part of what made me apply to graduate school. Books have inspired me to go into jobs that I’d lost all motivation to get out of bed for. Books have connected me to better people than I ever would have known otherwise. And books have healed me and put me back together on some of my worst days. And writing about them has set a seal on each of those things.
I usually have a list of bookish goals, but this year it’s really just one word long:
Anyway, that’s all to say that I hope to be much more present in 2017, here, on goodreads, and in general in my reading life.
And here’s your overall lists of 2017. Best/worst/possible upcoming reads. Because you can’t end a new year’s post without a list. It’s a law.
Best reads of the year:
Twilight of the Elites,
Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther,
Worst/most not worth it reads of the year:
A Spool of Blue Thread
Don’t You Cry
The Perfume Collector
Upcoming Reading Plans
–David Copperfield– finishing this on audiobook on my commutes in January
–The Enchantress of Florence
–The Silent Wife
-books on Chinese history to reinforce the course I’m teaching
…or whichever other book I dig out of the pile in my library next.