Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Reading on time

I don't plan my reading. I don't have books I "bump up the TBR". I don't look at my books and say which is going to be read when. It doesn't work for me, I never do it, and I can never stick to my plan. Readalong? Nope. Book club? Not going to happen. Even just saying, "The next book I read will be..." just ends up getting tossed in the corner by the time I come to choose a book.

Which is why I inevitably never end up reading the books that I technically should be reading. Say I check a book out from the library. I have a limited period to read it. One would expect that I would prioritize that book... but I don't. Or a recently released book. I should review it around the same time as everyone else. Instead, I usually end up reading it four years later, after the hype, the hype backlash and the re-hype have all faded away. And by then, nobody is really supposed to care anymore.

There's this concept in the literary world (and particularly the book blogging world) that books need to be read "on time". For official review outlets like the NYTBR, it makes sense that they would review only new books - that's part of their job description. But for so many book bloggers to focus so pointedly on having reviews of new books hot off the presses - coupled with the review outlet mentality, it seems to encourage our general collective amnesia. Books published only two years ago feel old. What would it look like if I suddenly posted a review of The Casual Vacancy, which still sits unopened on my shelf? Or if I read and enjoyed The Savage Detectives? I've seen so many bloggers post these funny disclaimers of "yes, I know everyone and their mother has already read this..." before posts about slightly older books, but is it really a problem? Do we all need to read the same books at the same time?

I understand wanting to feel a sense of belonging. Reading books together and at the same time provides a nicely structured sense of community, and is a great outlet for literary discourse. But I feel like we've taken it a bit too far. We don't need to wait fifty or a hundred years to explore the backlogs. Books published fifteen or ten or even five years ago may still be incredible and relevant today. We don't need rules about how to read - when and why and what. Flexibility is important. Time and space are important.

So I'll continue reading books on my own time. I'm willing to wait a bit. And if everyone has already read the book - all the better. Now we can talk about it.


  1. Definitely good to review something a little different - unfortunately, I've fallen into the trap of review copies a little (although I have reread a couple of great books recently, so there's hope for me yet).

  2. I have the same problem with reading books "on-time." When I started writing for an online newspaper, I felt the pressure to review more new books. Hence, I review more new books than I used to. On the blog, however, I still review whatever I happen to be reading. If it's worth reading, it's worth reading at any time!

  3. On one hand, I agree with you that we don't need rules about how to read. I love the way readers can discover a book years or decades or centuries after it was published and have exactly the same feelings of pleasure and discovery. And I think I probably read more oldish books than newish books, on balance.

    On the other hand, I love the idea of being all on the same cultural page. It's why it's so fun to watch TV shows while everyone else is watching them, because you all have this one thing to talk about. I know that a particular book can rarely achieve the sort of pop-culture saturation a movie or TV show can, and I'm fine with that, but it is fun on the rare occasions that it does happen (like Gone Girl maybe?).

  4. I agree with you on this, partly because I simply agree and partly because I have no choice. For years I simply read what I could get (which often wasn't much. Things are better now, but my habits have been colored by my poor proximity to English books.

  5. Yes to the idea of not very old books seeming so old. You mentioned The Casual Vacancy, I've had that since a few months after its release and although I will read it I feel I've missed the boat in a way. You kind of get into the mindset that because the book world has moved on, and because you're a blogger, newer books are more relevant. Though of course older books can make fabulous discussions. Sometimes I'll read a book to a 'plan', other times I won't. I will try with ARCs but recently I've realised how important it is to do things your own way.

  6. After several years of blogging I stopped reading stuff just to be "on time". When I make a commitment (ex. book tour) I try very hard to make it, but I no longer stress about it.

  7. Like you, I rarely join readalongs or book clubs because I rarely want to read something at the same time as everyone else. I'll admit I WISH I read as a community more often, it's just never the right book at the right time. I make an exception for Netgalley or review requests -- I can choose not to accept the request, but if I accept I need to be timely. I also like challenges where I choose the book, but it pushes me to pick up something I might not have otherwise. Sometimes I need that push.

    The other thing I don't do is readathons. I already read every day, but I don't understand why people push themselves to read for an entire weekend. That would only ruin my enjoyment of reading.


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