This year, for the first time, I tried reading around a theme or focus. The focus I picked was mysteries, a genre I have not paid much attention to since I devoured them as a youngster. To tell the truth, I really didn’t get focused until around August, so most of my reading was random and haphazard as per usual, but I did read more mysteries than I normally would (normal being zero).
I am enjoying it. I finally read some classics I had been meaning to get around to, I dabbled in a couple of the sub-genres, I tried a mystery set in my hometown, and I rounded it out with several mysteries from around the world. I know–the year is not done yet. I still have quite a few mysteries loaded on the Kindle and waiting for me.
To be clear, I didn’t read only mysteries. But I did make a list and tried to focus on them. I read with intent, which was to re-educate myself in the genre.
I think it might be fun to do this every year. Next year, I’m considering reading through time and reading speculative fiction by women as two potential focuses.
Since I love making book lists, I thought it might be fun to come up with some mini-courses that a reader could do in a year or less to learn more about a particular genre or type of literature. The courses could be organized in several ways. I could pick representative works or authors from the earliest examples through to the present day and get a broad overview. Or I could focus on reading the best example from several different sub-genres. Finally, I could narrow the selection to a focus within the genre, such as reading works by women or by minority writers. If I put a few of these mini-courses together, I’ll post them.
Have you ever tried reading around a theme or focus for a specific period of time?
Over on that most wonderful bookish online community, LibraryThing, entire groups and challenges are dedicated to helping us pick what to read next from the gigantic wishlist of everything we’ve ever wanted to read. My favorite way is to join in on theme challenges, selecting a book from a randomly proposed theme like “books with disasters in them” (Rivers, my next read) or even “a book that has blood on the cover” (NOS4A2, my last read).
It appears that readers everywhere have this very perplexing problem of picking what to read next and have devised all sorts of solutions. There are website services like this one or this one or this one, librarians can provide custom recommendations, or go the simple route and create a book jar. Also an attractive option for displaying next to the bookshelves.
How do you decide what to read next?
Before I started journaling my reading, in 2001, I just read whatever caught my eye at the bookstore without any sort of plan whatsoever. Over the decade since I started journaling, I’ve gradually become more purposeful in my reading, and if I look back over my journals (now on LibraryThing), I can see a steady improvement in the books I choose to read reflected in higher ratings and fewer abandoned books.
At the beginning of the year, I did an exercise where I identified my top 10 favorite books of all time. I noticed that 7 out of 10 books were written by women (and of the 3 on my list written by men, one of those men was gay), but in my general reading, I’m still reading 2 books by men for every 1 book by a woman, according to LibraryThing stats. I decided to get even more purposeful in my reading and read mostly women, choosing books that are similar to my top 7 favorite books/authors. I still have a lot of unplanned reads, but the deliberate planning has been helping me discover new-to-me authors and break out of my ruts. This month, for instance, I’m reading 4 sci-fi/fantasy books all by women I have never read before:
My goals to stretch even further would be to read more women of color and more authors from countries other than the US/Canada/Britain. I would also like to read more gay authors and more authors of color generally. As a former English major, I find that I have about had my fill of the white male voice, even though there are many white male authors whose books I enjoy. But I want to hear from some other voices and open up my world even more.
For further reading:
I realized with the first two reads of the year, I have an accidental theme going on: reptiles in my fiction! With Swamplandia! it was alligators; then there is a snake in The Burn Palace: A Novel. Our upcoming book club read is set in Texas, so I wonder if a lizard will figure into the plot.
That got me wondering how many of my past reads featured reptiles, so I did a quick search. Snakes are by far the most common reptiles to show up in my book reviews and summaries. Going back in time, I see there were significant snake scenes in:
As for alligators and crocodiles, there is only Swamplandia! that I can recall. There may have been a crocodile in The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel.
There are quite significant cosmic turtles in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, from which I’ve read Small Gods (Discworld), and in It and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. As for actual turtles, they don’t seem as common, although the Mock Turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly comes to mind.
I also can’t seem to find any books I’ve read with lizards in them, although there are dinosaurs of course in Jurassic Park: A Novel by Michael Crichton and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Would you be more or less likely to read a book with a snake in it? I’d rather meet one in fiction than in real life, that’s for sure!
Here’s a list of fictional reptiles from Wikipedia and a list of Reptiles in Fiction on LibraryThing, if you’d like to seek out even more reptiles in your fiction.
Last night, my husband and I instituted reading night. We didn’t turn on the TV, and instead read and listened to music during that time. I was worried I would be tired or sleepy to spend the entire evening reading, but I actually enjoyed it. I went to bed relaxed, and I made a good dent in the book I’m reading. It’s easy to get in a rut and just turn on the TV every night. I hope we’re able to keep up reading night, and maybe we’ll also add a game night to the week.
The last book I finished reading in 2013 was The Circle by Dave Eggers. The title refers to a fictional company that is quite obviously an amalgam of Google and Facebook. The book is a dystopian view of a near-future, a nightmarish outcome of current trends like living our lives via social networks, and the resulting monetization of our every share, the loss of privacy, and ultimately, loss of freedom.
While Eggers’ symbolism becomes quite heavy-handed, this is a chilling, sinister book that made me immediately want to disconnect my Facebook account. It was also an exciting book to read, because it depicts the world we are living in right now. This book may quickly become dated, but right now, it feels very current. The issues that it raises are issues we should all be thinking about and debating, and the point The Circle makes is that people have a tendency to accept what is new and exciting and convenient without really questioning the unintended consequences.
At its essence, I think The Circle is about indoctrination into a cult, how people can easily be persuaded that giving up fundamental freedoms is actually a good and necessary thing. Except in this case, the cult is global.
I’m not going to call The Circle great literature. But I think it is a thought-provoking read.
Here’s an excerpt from the book published in the New York Times Magazine.
“Non-reading is not just the absence of reading. It is a genuine activity, one that consists of adopting a stance in relation to the immense tide of books that protects you from drowning. On that basis, it deserves to be defended and even taught.”
How To Talk About Books You Havent Read on Brain Pickings is a great piece that helped crystallize some ideas that had been swirling around in my brain. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will read, what I will read next and whether I should continue reading what I am reading now. My reading time is limited, and I want to spend it in the best way possible for me. Since I’ve become so conscious of what I read, I have consistently read books that I have enjoyed more and that have made me think more.
There is that tinge of guilt that comes with not reading something, especially if it is a deliberate choice. I really ought to read ______ (fill in the blank with important literary work here). Well, this post banished all those guilty feelings. I can read, not read, skim, give up, just read the review in the NYT, as I choose, because it all becomes part of my collective library. Even the books that I don’t read have meaning to me.
The post even provides a system of categorization of unread books: unknown, skimmed, heard about, forgotten. Those books too may be weighted on a scale from an extremely positive opinion to extremely negative. I immediately put this rating scale into practice when going through my library and trying to decide what to read or reread next. A forgotten book associated with an extremely positive feeling got put on my “to read” shelf, while one with a negative or even neutral opinion was placed in the donate pile, as I knew I wouldn’t want to reread it.
I realize that not everyone delves so deeply into their reading life as to categorize books they haven’t even read yet, but it is a comfort to know that I am not the only one to do so. Indeed, there is a whole book dedicated to the subject. To be truthful, I probably won’t read that book, since this summary on Brain Pickings gave me all the food for thought I needed.