Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thoughts on a semi-literary week

During this final week of vacation, I finally got the opportunity to do two things I don't normally have the time (or the correct country code) for: buy books at Borders' "Everything must go!" sale and read.

I've completed six books this week, most of them short or easy-to-read young adult books. In addition, I acquired almost 20 books to bring back home with me in a few days. Among these books, the clear preference was for sci-fi and some fantasy. The remaining books are, for the most part, novellas in translation. These purchases are fairly in-line with my recent literary identity crisis.

I've been thinking for the past few months about how I'm an incredibly uneducated reader. Actually, I've been thinking that for years, pretty much from the moment I started reading in an organized and adult manner. I've read neither the famous books, nor do I have a particular niche that individualizes my literary tastes. When blogging (and reading other blogs), I repeatedly get the impression that I'm not "reading right". That I'm not reading enough. And then I start to get stressed and nervous. Then I stop enjoying the books I'm reading. I start over-analyzing books and whether or not I "understood them properly" and whether or not I'm "missing" something.

But this week - reading a wide variety of books, well-known and less - made me realize that it's all in my head. That is, the reason I haven't been enjoying books as much recently is because I've been building up unfair expectations. By mentally hyping every books I read (through the obsessive following of reviews and blogs and author interviews, etc.), I set myself up for disappointment. Meanwhile, when I stumble upon books with little fanfare or expectations I enjoy the experience much more.Set alongside this my ever-shifting literary taste (the pendulum swings back towards sci-fi...), I'm finding that it's harder and harder to "do it properly". Writing reviews and blogging and reading suddenly becomes too much.

So why not do it not-properly? I keep having to remind myself that reading is supposed to be fun - if I make work out of it in my free time, it shouldn't influence that original intent. Sure, I didn't read many books in translation this week... but do I have to? I read some very enjoyable books, as well as some very thoughtful ones. Isn't that what counts? And like my realization last week of the joys of the impulse buy, not knowing what lies in store, I'm learning that maybe my extensive research and analyzing tendencies are harming my reading experience rather than helping it.


  1. I love this post! It echoes so many of my own feelings! I'm always berating myself for reading too much "trash" instead of more heavyweight or "classic" books. And yes, the not reading enough thing too! :--)

  2. Great post. I never feel like I'm reading the "right" thing, always feel like I'm missing something. You can only do what you can do and hopefully enjoy it!

  3. Judging by my blog, you might say that I only read classics, but my reading tastes are actually a little insane. I have a lot of romance novels, YA, and Stephen King books in my bookshelf. I only blog about classics, so I don't feel like I have to blog about every book I read.

    I can totally understand your dilemma about reading the "right" kind of books, but we bloggers shouldn't worry so much. Reading and blogging should be fun, not stressful. :)

  4. Good for you to back off your "reading the right books" stress. I, too, have also felt this, along with the fact that altho I have a graduate degree in English, I do tend to not have these deep meaningful interpretations of the books I read (like some of the blogs I read).
    However, I think the point is (and you reiterate this in your post) to have fun: that reading is supposed to be enjoyable and laid back. I sometimes have this feeling that I am never going to read all the books I'd like to and that the ones I do read are not "literary" enough. However, I am learning to back off from that, and go back to the joy of flitting from subject to subject, letting the books lead me where they will.

    But it ain't easy to let go of expectations, whether they are your own or other people's. Am hoping it gets easier for us both as time goes on. I like what Marie said earlier in the comments: You can only do what you can do. Very wise words.

    liz in texas


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