Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

book choosing

for my birthday kycoo asked how do you decide and keep track of what books you want to read? Does your to-read list ever get out of control, or do you prune it from time to time?

short answer: I really try to avoid having any kind of organized "to read" list. or worse, nightstand stack of books. equally bad. I do not let anything loom over me.

long answer: I went through a major reading drought in my early 20s. When I was a kid in school I read EVERYTHING. I loved Babysitter's Club and Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl... I very clearly remember reading the first few lines of Matilda, realizing that it was a treasure, and putting it down. I then ran around the house stealing pillows and cushions, stacked them in a corner, nested in with my book, and had the best day.

Then I went to college, and then grad school, and when you're in school you only read for school. Especially grad school... if you have time to read it should be conference papers. I didn't read anything.

I missed it. I tried to get some books. I'd go to a bookstore and buy something that seemed smart, like things an engineer SHOULD read. Technology and physics and serious things. There was only one issue... I couldn't finish them. So the same books would pile up on my nightstand for months, I wouldn't get through anything, and I wasn't happy with myself. They'd just sit.

Two things happened that changed me.

First, a coworker lended me "The Metaphysics of Star Trek", or at least left it on our center table of our cubicle until the whole office was convinced it was mine, so finally I just took it home and read it so I could make him take it home. Yes, in an office of electrical engineers, I was being called the nerd! It was okay. Not as good as The Physics of Star Trek, for the record. But I knew it couldn't just stay on my night stand, because it wasn't mine, I had to give it back. The pressure!

Second, I had a roommate who was the opposite of me, she had no interest in physics books, her entire library was a genre that I'll call "target best sellers". it was her fault I picked up some jodi picoult novel one day, then "In Her Shoes" by Jennifer Weiner, and felt all kinds of bad for not reading my "smart" books but you know what? I FINISHED A BOOK. I enjoyed it and relaxed and felt better!

Both these incidents combined to teach me an important life lesson: don't buy books.

I know it sounds weird because I love books. But I don't buy them. I never go to book stores. I own some, sure, I've bought some, mostly used. But I don't buy books to read. If I buy a book it's because I've already read it, and want to refer back to it, re-read it, or lend it out.

Library books come with a deadline to finish them. They are also not always available. Book stores will get you EVERYTHING. But I can't handle everything. I like my selection to be artificially, needlessly, narrowed.

I click "to read" in good reads all the time but I don't stress about the list. When I'm ready for a book I do one of three things:

1) Walk out to my little free library. Anything good? One day it was Small Steps, a book by a woman who'd survived polio as a pre-teen. It was amazing.

2) Go to my library. Anything on the librarian selection displays? One day it was library week, so the books were about books. Meta! But I picked up Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie and it's one of the most memorable tributes to education I've ever encountered, it was beautiful.

3) I am in some book clubs, I listen to podcasts... NPR will have authors sometimes. The Overdue podcast is great. I'll pick up some things from there. If it's a book I hear about on the news I'll add it on goodreads or "to read" in my libby app. My office book club got me to read this is how it always is by Laurie Frankel.

4) The Libby app really has revolutionized my reading this past year. I have a list of library books that sound interesting. When I'm ready for a new book I go pull up my list and make my choice based on what's available. Sometimes I don't even look at my list, I just sort by "what's popular", "non-fiction", that's how I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

I have dropped my judgement of books. Jodi Picoult isn't bad, it's reading! I will celebrate all of it.

I've also dropped my obligations. I don't HAVE to finish one book to start another one, and I definitely will not spend six months on one book. Life is too short! If I have to renew it at the library once, that's fine. But not twice. It is time to move on.

I even listen to audiobooks now, all the time. I used to be judgmental about that. I used to refuse to want a kindle, but now that I've got libby I'm all about it. I've realized that I can read multiple books at once though by having different books on different platforms, and that means MOAR BOOKS.

Reading is like sunshine and exercise for me... I feel better when I'm in a book. Sometimes I learn things, sometimes I have things to think about.

But there are so many ways to just pick a book from a shelf, real or virtual or even outdoors, why burden myself with a list of things to read? I don't know what I'll want to read next week. In October I always like a spooky book. When the world is sad I need something uplifting. When the world is okay I need to educate myself with something challenging. I am the forrest gump feather in the wind, when it comes to books. that way there's no nightstand pile, no anxiety, and no guilt. all that matters is reading.
Tags: books

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