2013 Reading Resolutions

As both a librarian who loves readers’ advisory and a book review columnist (The Mindful Reader), I read a fair number of books. At our neighbors’ post holiday bonfire last weekend I was a little embarrassed when someone pointed out that I read around 2-3 books a week most of the time (which I blog about at bookconscious) and other guests seemed to find that pretty odd. I’m often reading one book for the column and 1-2 others at the same time. Someone asked me whether I really retain what I’m reading at that pace.

I muttered something brilliant like “I think so” but a better response is “it depends.” If I’m skimming something so I know whether or not I want to recommend it to library patrons, say a craft book or a genre I don’t usually read, maybe I don’t remember everything, but in that situation, I’m not trying to retain it. If it’s a book for the column that deserves a review but I don’t love (I try to cover books that appeal to a wide range of tastes, not just my own) I do read mindfully, but I also tend to let the book go as soon as I’ve written about it.

If on the other hand, I’m reading either for research or for pleasure, I take my time, unless of course the book is page turner. And I think I do retain what I’m reading, even if the details (like all details in my mid-40’s mind) are sometimes hard to recall perfectly. Retention aside, I’ve heard Paul Harding speak a few times and he advocates slow reading because the experience is better, you notice more, you can enjoy the beauty of a good book if you’re not rushing it.

To read (and live) well, I think the key is to be fully engaged,to allow what you’re experiencing to become a part of your not to have perfect recall. When I reviewed The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak on bookconscious I wrote, “In my view, the best books stay with you, working on your own stored memory, fusing themselves with all you’ve read and all you’ve been, incorporating themselves into what you’ll be. Books that last are books that make meaning, that consciously or unconsciously change the way you view the next thing you read, the next idea you consider, the next response you have to the world. ” You could say the best way to read is to make yourself available to that.

So while I’m not making fancy reading resolutions and or joining formal challenges (after falling short of my Europa Challenge goal last year), I do plan to practice mindfully savoring whatever I’m reading for reading’s sake. Work reading is work reading, and I’ll continue to do that as efficiently as is necessary. Although occasionally something counts as both work and pleasure.

I will participate in two community reads in 2013: I’m on the Concord Reads committee and will read whatever we choose for that. And Books on the Nightstand’s Project Short Story sounds both fun and doable. What are your 2013 reading resolutions?

The tyranny of summer reading

I had big plans to get through my copious “to-read” piles/lists this summer, which are comprised of books I’ve been wanting to read. So far, I’ve barely made a dent. I’ve read a number of books for The Mindful Reader column, for a book club I enjoy, and for The Europa Challenge. I’ve mostly enjoyed what I’m reading, and enjoyed discovering books and authors new to me, but a sense of obligation has crept into my reading. Even the “to-reads” are beginning to feel like something I have to get through.

Many young people shopping at the independent bookstore where I work part-time share that sense of reading as an obligation. Most schools require summer reading. Some, like my son’s college, have a community-wide selection that everyone in the incoming freshman class or the campus reads. Others, like most of the local public and private schools in our area, offer lists for students to choose from.

I’ve always figured a list wasn’t so bad — at least students controlled their choices. But lately, because I’m reading books I’ve “chosen” from small subsets whose parameters are narrowed for me, I understand the limitations of lists. Although I have more freedom as an adult I empathize with kids who chafe at the tyranny of summer reading. I’ve told my own two teens they should read for their own pleasure as much as possible this summer.

Of course, I chose to write a book review column, join a discussion group, and set a reading challenge for myself.  But I’m going to try to rediscover the serendipity of reading something just because I want to, as I did for many summers as a child.