Friday, August 12, 2016

A Reader's Confession

I've found this week's discussion thought-provoking not only because it has prompted me to think about my relationship with titles and covers as a writer but because I've been thinking about what I read and why.

I am now about to share a secret. I often buy books that friends or reviewers I trust have recommended. But the truth is these book often set on my shelf -- or a table where they were deposited to be in plain sight -- unread. My Southern-born grandma would have called it "being contrary". As much as I value the helpful friends and reviewers who tell me about terrific books that they have read and I should read, when I'm reading for pleasure, I "just as soon" (as we say in the South) choose my own book.

I read so many books -- fiction and nonfiction -- because I need to or have to for classes I'm teaching or research I'm doing. When I have a chance to read purely for pleasure I want to choose my own book. I want to recreate that lovely feeling I had every week as a teenager when I would walk into the public library and browse through the shelves to find the book or two I would read that weekend. 

I had that same feeling when I was old enough to earn a little money of my own and could buy a novel at the small bookstore on Main Street. I loved browsing through the paperbacks and leaving with a mystery or a Gothic romance or a historical or an espionage novel. Starlight mints, iced tea, and a book that I couldn't wait to open.

I think those memories are why I buy books that are recommended, intending to read them, and often don't.

On occasion I have come back to a book that was recommended years earlier. Sometimes I browse my own bookshelves, feeling I should read some of the books I have before bringing another book into the house -- even a library book. Now and then I "discover" a book that was recommended, coming up on it and being delighted to find that I might well have taken it home if I had found it on my own.

There are a couple of exceptions to my resistance to books I don't choose. I'm on the list of available book discussion leaders for a local library system. I lead a discussion two or three times a year if one of the member libraries asks me to come. I enjoy doing this not only because people in library reading groups read books with close attention, but because the books on the annual lists are often books that I would like to read. The discussion leaders identify the books we would be willing to do, and I always find books that I'd like to read and hope I will be asked to lead a discussion so that I will make the time to read them.

My other exception is the two or three times I've been on a book award committee. Loads of novels to read, a whole year's worth in a category. But a wonderful opportunity to have the library delivered to ones door. The added bonus is that this is an occasion when I can't be contrary. I need to read books that I might not have chosen -- and how lovely to discover I like a book I might not have picked up as I was browsing in the library or a bookstore. 

I'm on my way to the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival tomorrow, and I'm going to browse my bookshelves for a wonderful book to take along to read on the plane. I consider time spent in the air "free time". I am not obliged to do the work I brought along. I can settle in with a book and remember again how much fun it is to read for pure pleasure.


Donis Casey said...

Frankie, I also seem to spend a lot of time reading stuff I wouldn't necessarily choose on my own. That's the problem with having innumerable author friends/writing book reviews/teaching writing classes...

Charlotte Hinger said...

I will be judging contemporary novels for Western Writers of America this fall/winter. Actually, I usually find quite a number of good novels this way.