I love reading Most Anticipated ________ Books lists. Books for summer! Books for spring! Spooky books! Comforting books! At least once a week I google book lists and scan down through them to see if there is anything new or anything I’ve missed. I add any books that I’m interested in to my Amazon Wish List, and then every two months I put in a pre-order request to Gulf of Maine Books, my independent bookstore of choice.
This year I am buying more books than I am getting from the library for three reasons: there’s no rush to return them when I can’t finish them in time (give me at least one renewal on new releases, please!!), I’m supporting an indie shop that probably doesn’t have as large a following as other shops you’ve seen bouncing around the internet, and I can give the books a fair chance to hook me in the long term. The risk is that I will purchase a book that I do not end up enjoying, and only one of them has turned out this way so far, but if I’m diligent about my research I can minimize the risk.
What I have discovered in the past and am remembering this year is that some books require a certain mood/environment/time of year to get into. Some books just hit different in March than they do in November. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s true. A book I keep putting down in June I end up devouring in October. A notable example is The Stand by Stephen King. I tried to read this book multiple times over multiple years and was never able to get past the first few chapters. Finally, when I had nothing to do one summer I was able to sit down and devote my entire attention to it daily until I finished. Some books require that too – you have to be its constant companion or you lose it. Speaking of Stephen King, I still haven’t been able to get past the first few chapters of Wizard and Glass, and I would like to eventually finish the entire Dark Tower series. I just haven’t reached a place in my life where I can do that.
Something I think that a lot of book reviewers forget is that just because you can’t get into a book doesn’t mean it’s bad. What makes a book “bad” versus what makes a book “not for me” can be an overlapping Venn Diagram for sure, but they can also be mutually exclusive. When I started this blog I was excited to be mean to the bad books. As I’ve become more involved in the writer/reader community online, I’m discovering a more nuanced way of approaching my craft, if you can call it that. I have two requirements for myself: make it to at least 30% through the book before making a call AND/OR put the book down and come back to it in a couple weeks. This way I’m giving the book a fair shot to hook me or putting off reading it until I’m ready to give it my all.
I bought My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee, pub. date 2/2/2021. Everything about the description screamed that I would enjoy the story, and the praise heaped upon the author only added evidence that it was a safe buy. I have started and stopped reading this book on three separate occasions since its purchase, the most recent was this past week. The writing is fine, and the story is interesting, but there’s just something there that my brain doesn’t want to tackle right now. I suspect it is a book that, like The Stand, is going to require me to read it and only it until I am finished. So back on the TBR shelf it goes until this school year is done and the summer gives me some of my sanity back.
The privilege of owning a book has become so much clearer to me this year. It’s more than just possessing something. When you’re finished with the book, you’ve also bought a gift to give to someone else if you don’t want to keep it. You’re also buying yourself time. The ability to take your time is a gift and a privilege, and buying books has given that to me when I haven’t had it before. You also have a choice – something that I believe is a component of true freedom. I can choose to put down My Year Abroad and pick up We Hunt the Flame instead, moving on to something I want to read at that time. Having a choice to satisfy wants instead of constantly thinking I NEED to finish this book makes the entire experience more enjoyable.
I don’t know if this situation will continue for me, or if I will have to go back to managing my library holds like a fantasy draft, but for now I will revel in taking a deep breath, surveying the large piles of books in my home office (and stored in my Kindle) and saying “What do I want to read next?” I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
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