Recently (in a book, article, short story, TV show, movie, or something), I read/heard an observation that really just jumped out and smacked me in the face. Another character commented that someone read an awful lot about books but didn’t do a whole lot of actual readi- AHA!!! I remember! It was Americanah! Holy crap, I remembered. *scurries to bookshelf* This is huge. You have no idea. I even found the page:
“What about this recent book Monk Memoirs?” Mirabelle said.
“It’s a cowardly, dishonest book. Have you read it?” Shan asked.
“I read a review.” Mirabelle said.
“That’s the problem. You read more about books than you read actual books.”
– Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, page 417
(Breaking all sorts of citation rules here, I’m sure.)
I had a YES moment when I read this. This is applicable far beyond the context of these characters’ conversation. In fact, I’m guilty of reading reviews and seeing book titles on lists so frequently that I lose track of what I have or haven’t actually read. Does that happen to you?
Now I’m trying to imagine a world of reading outside the realm of reviews, best seller lists, most-important-books articles. Actually, Americanah is a perfect example (how fortuitous). It was on The Washington Post‘s “Notable Fiction of 2013” list, among many other lists. Naturally, it ended up on my bookshelf.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. It was insightful, clever, and I giggled more than anticipated. But would I have picked it up if I’d walked into a bookstore and seen it lying on a table? The same question can be put to a lot of the books I’ve read recently or that are currently waiting for me to crack open their covers.
What dictates what we read?
People love to make fun of 50 cent, paperback, bodice-ripping romance novels, but I admire the people who read them. I watch a traveler pick one up at an airport, and I’m equal parts judgmental and jealous. I’m not saying that I want to read those books, but I am saying that those people are reading what they want to read, others be damned. They enjoy it. They couldn’t give two shits if it’s the scum of the literary world. (Insert Fifty Shades of Grey joke here.) They want to read what they want to read.
It must be like living in a vacuum.
What if I walked into a bookstore without my goodreads list of titles, without the authors’ names that have been drilled into my head since grade school, without The New York Times Sunday review? *gasp* What would I pick up? What would I buy and read?
Ok, I’ve gone off on a huge tangent with infinite possibilities, but just let that question sink in a bit. Maybe you’re already someone who reads whatever they want all the time (tell me!). Maybe you have strict criteria for the books that land on your shelves (what’re the rules?). I don’t plan on throwing out my reading blueprints just yet, but there’s definitely something appealing about rediscovering the joy of picking up a book when we were kids just because the cover was cool and had astronaut bears flying spaceships made of jellybeans on it (or something equally awesome).
I think what I’ll take from this for now is a slightly less restrictive path of reading. If I want to take a break from Donna Tartt’s behemoth The Goldfinch and read a bit of whatever-I-feel-like, I just might.