My whole life, I have been a reader. Some of my strongest memories revolve around books—reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG the week I had the chicken pox, my sixth-grade obsession with the characters inThe Outsiders, the shocking thrill of reading VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Atticas a teenager. My love of reading continued into college and then adulthood. By now it’s as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth or drinking coffee each morning.
However, this past year I found myself in a reading glut. For the first time in my life, I was having a hard time finding the same pleasure from books that I’ve always taken for granted. Part of this had to do publishing my own novels. Reading had always been my hobby, but suddenly it was my work as well. I was reading more advance review copies, and while there is a certain thrill in reading a book before it’s been released and then putting your endorsement upon it, it’s also a little like being assigned a book for class—even if I love it, I’d still prefer to choose my own titles. Additionally, I was cramming too many things into the day—a full time job and family life, writing, and now the business side of writing which included promotion and connecting with readers and writers. By the time I had a chance to read, I was impatient and lacking the focus to stay with a book. Instead of lingering over literature, I was skimming, rushed, unwilling to expend the effort required of a heavier novel. Because of this, I gravitated toward women’s fiction and domestic thrillers, a genre I both enjoy and write. Yet I realized that reading too many books in the same niche market led to me growing bored with reading for the first time in my life.
Summer has always been a time when I can spend more time with books, and I entered July with anxiety over my “problem.” How to recapture my love of reading—something that was not only important to my career (as both a writer and teacher) but also vital to my enjoyment of life?
Having recently acquired my first Kindle, I decided I needed to mix up my reading choices. Since it was summer and I had time to read more than twenty minutes a day, I would try a few books that required a little more effort on my part and that were different in style and genre than what I usually gravitate toward. I started with Tangerineby Christine Monahan, a novel that isn’t that far from the genre that I’d been reading recently except it takes place in Tangier during the 1950s and the distant setting is integral to the plot. I read this one while in Edinburgh on vacation with my husband and tore through it in just a few days. Buoyed by my success, I next tackled My Absolute Darlingby Gabriel Tallent, a novel I’d been intrigued by but hadn’t picked up because of its dark subject matter and exquisite prose that, while beautiful, often required a dictionary. This was one of the most devastating and riveting books I’ve read in recent years, one that left my head spinning and made me wish I had a book club to talk about it with later. Then I read Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, a historical fiction novel set in New York City during World War Two.
At the same time, I’ve been listening to Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, read by Patchett herself. I’m new to audio books and have loved listening to this thoughtful and honest meditation on writing, friendship, career, and marriage, as one of my favorite authors reflects upon the course of her life as a writer. The experiment continued and now I’ve moved on to YA titles and books on teaching as I get ready to start the school year.
Turns out, a little variety in my books and more time to devote to them was all I needed. One month and nine books and counting later, I am happily reading again.
As I head into the end of August and gear up for September, I hope I don’t slip into my old book malaise, but even if I do, I’m soothed by the thought that all I need to revive my first love is a little variety and patience.
My Summer Reading List so far:
Tangerine by Christine Monahan
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (YA)
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
Moving Forward with Literature Circles by Jeni Pollack Day, Dixie Lee Spiegel, Janet McLellan, and Valerie B. Brown
On my list:
Rebound by Kwame Alexander (YA)
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (short stories)
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott