September 18th, 2009

planet

my three-week book policy

When I was a little kid I used to read like a crazy person. I had a shelf of books by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Roald Dahl and I'd read each one five hundred times. I was excited about reading from the moment I started. I the first grade we'd get these little paper books we stapled together, and each time I got one I'd take it home and get out the box with all the others and read everything in the box, including the new one.

Then reading slowed down. In high school I had to read for english class and I enjoyed that. In college I was no longer in english. I had engineering, physics, math, and they all had their own textbooks, and I felt like if I was reading then that's what I should be reading. No more stories. Even after college, at the bookstore I bought books I felt like engineers "should" buy. Non-fiction about the latest physics theories or computer history. Since I never had philosophy or religion or women's studies classes in college, I felt like I should make up for that void. But I didn't really enjoy those books. I'd buy one, then drag myself through it. For months I'd have a book or two on the nightstand, I'd go through a few pages when I couldn't sleep. People would talk about books they enjoyed but I didn't want to move on to another book until I finished the one I'd just bought, because I felt guilty looking at my bookshelves and seeing perfectly good books I hadn't gotten to yet.

I moved in with my roommate and she kept trite page-turner novels that were on sale at Target. I felt very elite with my physics books. Then one weekend, I picked up one of her Jodi Picoult books and plowed through it in three days. I felt bad because it was cheesy, but on the other hand I'd actually finished a book. At the same time, a coworker lended me The Physics of Star Trek and I made it through that and enjoyed it. I had to make it through because it was a borrowed book, you can't just steal someone else's book for months at a time, you have to read at least half so you can fake like you know what it's about.

So I decided the following:
  1. No book should get to take up The Space on my nightstand forever, while there are other perfectly good books to read.
  2. It's okay to read something for fun.
  3. I have to stop buying books. They make me feel guilty, staring at me. Plus, borrowing a book gives you a deadline... read or give it back.
  4. There's got to be something in between trashy chick-lit and string theory.


I go to the library these days. I'm not perfect about it but I have a library card. I try to avoid renewing anything. If the book hasn't captured my interest after three weeks, I give it up. Even if I like the language or the basic story, I can't dedicate my life to one book. Life is too short. I go to the library and walk to a section, usually sci-fi/fantasy. I look for an author with more than one book on the shelf... that means the author must be worth something. I pick an interesting looking title after making sure it's not book 2 in a series of 7 or something crazy like that.

I also feel okay having a "lunch break book" and a book at home. I eat lunch at my desk a lot, and it's nice to get a break from the computer screen, but I try to read something businessy. The three-week policy still applies and it can't keep me from reading fiction, that's the rule. So I read "Winning" by Jack Welch and now I'm reading "Good to Great".

This summer I read Beguilement by Lois McMaster and I liked it because it was sweet, character-driven, had magic and surprise smut. I didn't know this at the time but it was a "fantasy/romance" and normally I wouldn't be caught dead with a romance novel but that was the old me, the new me wants to try new things, and I did. I really liked it, I was totally rooting for the main characters to succeed against dark forces, and hook up. Win!

Then I read Maximum Light by Nancy Kress and it was a little disturbing, but a really fast read. It's about the future and big government conspiracies. If you want to rush though a book in a weekend and feel kinda creeped out, I'd recommend it.

Currently I'm reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. I violated my policy... I renewed it after three weeks. But I won't renew it again. I'm about 2/3 of the way through and it's a beautiful novel, I might finish it but if not I can't feel bad. I really like it, she's invented a complex culture with some really intense scenes but it's not grabbing me like the faster reads do. I can let it go if I have to.

I think reading is like exercise in that I feel like a better person when I'm reading, and it's nice to curl up in a chair sometimes with a book and not have to think about anything else... enjoy the quiet and be one of those thoughtful people who reads. I just have to find what works for me.