Anyone who knows me, also knows that I love written words. I’m not very adept at spoken language. I fumble through social interactions at a party with strangers and don’t particularly enjoy (or excel in) small talk.
But ask me what I’m reading, and, whoa, you’ll probably wish you hadn’t mentioned the b-word—I’ll latch on to you like a leech and explain the plot and writing characteristics of the last three books I’ve read.
It’s what I do for fun.
I’ve always been that way. I remember one time as an elementary student, crying deep, heavy sobs in my bedroom. When my dad came to ask what was wrong, I held out Barkley Come Home. I tried to explain what was happening to the poor dog in the book, but could hardly catch my breath. My dad walked away shaking his head, explaining to whoever was in the living room that he just couldn’t understand how anyone could get so wrapped up in a book. I still have several of the stories I wrote myself as a child—ruled pages stapled together filled with misspelled words and colored-pencil drawings.
As an adolescent, I holed up in my room scribbling in notebooks. I filled dozens of them (now buried in a basement somewhere in Michigan). In my early twenties, when other twenty-somethings were meeting at the bar, I found a writers group at my local library and hung out with other writers twice my age to get some much-needed feedback on my own written words. Later, in my late twenties and early thirties, I helped to form a writers’ group in Korea and on Saturday nights we’d get together, drink wine, and provide feedback on each other’s writing. I’d go to work the next day and tell my seventh-grade language arts students, “Come on, guys. This if fun. This is how I spend my weekends.” They’d stare blankly back in my direction—their empty eye’s betraying their thoughts—“Well, you’re also old and boring.”
For my entire life I have loved devouring (or writing) words on a page.
I’m not sure when it began, but unfortunately at some point in my reading life, I became a literary snob.
What is a literary snob, you ask?
Literary Snob: Someone who only reads only a certain genre that he has decided is better than the rest. A literary snob is judgmental of books outside a certain genre without having read them.
A book snob (like my former self) doesn’t even give other genres a chance. In my case, I wanted literary fiction. I preferred reading classics but would give contemporary novels a try as long as they were character-driven and had won a big, fat award of some kind.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit this now. I don’t know where that attitude came from. A book doesn’t have to be literary to change someone’s life. It doesn’t have to be character-driven to contain characters that readers might admire or what to emulate. It doesn’t have to be a classic to contain worlds or ideas that haunt us long after we’ve finished it. A single book can speak differently to each unique reader.
About three years ago, I finally recognized my snobbishness, and I made a conscious effort to pick up books that I normally wouldn’t have tried. Though a die-hard fan of fiction, I decided to commit to reading at least one non-fiction book a month. I joined a book club that listed books on the reading list that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. I committed to reading contemporary popular authors that, despite their prolific number of published books, I had not yet read.
I made this decision and then spent the next several years reading Suzanne Collins and Erik Larson and Dean Koontz and Rainbow Rowell. I sometimes returned to my previous tendencies and re-read Steinbeck and Harper Lee and a few other old favorites, but I consistently returned to my commitment to dabble in a variety of genres. I picked up Susanna Kearsley, Jojo Moyes, and John Green. Sometimes I couldn’t finish a book and tossed it in the DNF pile. But there were also some very exciting discoveries I made—books I loved so much that I’ll likely pick them up again for the sheer joy of admiring the style in which the author put words on a page.
As I began reaching into previously untouched piles of books, I slowly recovered from my snobbishness. Now I mourn the books I’ve missed over the years. There was so much time—so many reading minutes—I could have used to discover new and exciting little gems in the book world. Without my recovery, I could have missed the shocking plot twists of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or the stunning verse in Sarah Crossan’s The Weight of Water.
And that, my friends, would have been a tragedy.
There are so many books lined up on my Kindle shelves, more books I want to read than minutes I have to read them. In deciding what to read next, as as I delve into unchartered reading territory, I rely mostly on friends’ reviews and the recommendations that pop up in the Amazon kindle store. Since I’ve been dabbling in the blogging world, I’ve also discovered and begun to follow couple of blogs that do book reviews like The Book Geek.
What about you?
Time is precious. How do you decide what to read next?