Sunday, March 26, 2006

The glow has faded

After a month or so, my Excel spreadsheet proved to be less worthy of obsession, and more like work. Don't get me wrong, I still put the books that I actually read on the first page, but putting all of the books I buy on the To-Be-Read list kind of fell by the wayside. Now I see why Michael thought I might be overdoing it.

On the other hand, I am excited to finally have enough books on my list of those I have read for it to start being interesting. For instance, at the beginning of this month, I filtered the list for Science Fiction books, and was very surprised to only find 4 of them. Granted, there were only 28 books on the list at that time, and for many people, 4 would be a large number of books to devote to science fiction, but it is one of my favorite genres. I immediately went out and bought 2 Philip K. Dick books, Lies, Inc, and Paycheck and Other Classic Stories. I also bought two more science fiction novels this weekend--Psychlone by Greg Bear, and Time Out of Joint, again by Philip K. Dick.

This morning I even took a stab at cleaning up the second and third pages of my workbook. I moved books that I had bought from my list of books-to-buy over to my list of books-to-be-read. I deleted books-to-be-read that I actually had read, but had forgotten to remove from the list. I even added the five books that I bought yesterday to the list of books-to-be-read. I ended up with 49 books to be read, 29+ books to buy and 33 books read since the end of last November. Looking back a couple of posts, it looks like I have made progress going through the books I own (my post from January 8 says that I had 53 books on the to-be-read list), but that is probably because I didn't look through my bookshelves to see what still needs to be added.

So, here are some random thoughts I had when looking over my list of books so far.

  • I haven't read as many memoirs lately as I thought I had. I have bought some, but there are only two memoirs that are actually completely read. This is interesting to me, because it seemed to me that lately I have been reading a lot of memoirs. This is probably due to several factors: reading those two very close together in time, purchasing 3 more right after reading those, and endlessly debating the nature of memoirs with my friend Michael after that whole James Frey thing.
  • I read a lot of collections of books. I like to find an author that I like and read everything by him or her. I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It does mean I read a lot of books that I like, but I wonder if it means that I am lacking in breadth and diversity.
  • Counteracting the above observation to some degree, I read a lot more non-fiction than I did when I was younger. I used to be a fiction-only kind of gal, but now I find myself enjoying non-fiction quite a bit more. I have only completed 5 non-fiction books in the past 4 months or so that I have been listing them, but I have others that I know I will read, and hey, I'm sitting at 15% of the total books that I have read. It's not a huge percentage, but it is significant.
  • Even though I feel like I have been reading more slowly lately, I am still on a pace of two books per week.
  • I don't read nearly as many magazines lately as I used to. I want all of my reading to count for this list, dammit! I do still read newspapers, though, and lots and lots of stuff for work.
  • Having a list makes me much more conscious of what I am reading, and not always in a good way. I want my list to make me look intelligent, so I put off reading The Summer I Dared, by Barbara Delinsky, for a while because it felt too lightweight. I finally read it last week and finished it in a day. I stayed up until 1 AM on a work night because I HAD to know how it ended. So, snobbery could have robbed me of a great reading experience. Who cares if a book is weighty? It should just be good.

I thought about adding some kind of intellectual point after that last observation, but stopped myself just in time ;-).

2 comments:

Michael said...

When I started my list in 1999, I considered myself primarily a horror fan who read the occasional fantasy or science fiction story. But like you, when I looked back over my list, I was surprised to find that I didn’t read as much in my “favored” genre as I thought I did. This kind of bothered me, because why would I think of myself as preferring something when my reading habit clearly showed that not to be the case. So then I studied my book shelves, and specifically began trying to loosely piece together my reading habit before I began the list. I figured out that my first impression was correct – I had read a ton of horror. From the early 1980s until about the time I started the list, I figured out that I had read horror almost exclusively.

So why the discrepancy?

Turned out to be simple really. Maybe coincidence, but still quite simple. But to understand it, you have to understand why I started keeping track in 1999 in the first place.

In an effort to encourage my step-son to read, my wife and I decided to have reading a contest. Whoever read the most books by the end of the year got a prize. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. He started off strong, but after a short time, lost interest and my wife and I couldn’t read slow enough to allow him to catch up. But once busted, the contest had spawned a strange desire to track what I was reading. Soon it became a compulsion and I was on my way to compiling a history of my reading habit.

Now, like I said, this is probably coincidental, but I’m guessing that about the same time as I started keeping the list, my reading choices were changing. I can remember being frustrated with some of the horror fiction being published at that time, specifically, things seemed to be shifting into either the realm of “serial killer” fiction or just plain ol’ predictability. And as such, I discovered that I was picking up whatever book I was reading at the time with a certain amount of dread.

I never read horror exclusively. Through high school and college, I also read a decent amount of fantasy and science fiction (as an aside: sometimes the line between horror fiction and fantasy fiction is quite blurred, as is the line sometimes between fantasy and science fiction). I had read Tolkein two or three times, and was also a fan of Terry Brooks, although I didn’t discover Robert Jordan until I started keeping this list. I had read Heinlein, Niven, Clarke, and Bova as well. So as my frustration with reading another predictable book grew, my attention was drawn to some of the non-horror fiction I had enjoyed many years before. And before I knew it, three years had gone by and there were only three horror novels on my list (plus one non-horror novel by an author who writes primarily horror). I also realized that I didn’t even bother to check the horror section of the local bookstore anymore; I was spending all my time in the fantasy and science fiction section. I no longer read Cemetery Dance and didn’t even bother with my favorite authors’ websites anymore.

I had abandoned my Once True Love and hadn’t even realized it.

I continued to write fiction during that time, and oddly enough, that fiction was mainly horror. But with the above realization, I knew that I was getting out of touch. If I wanted to successfully sell my fiction, I needed to at least stay in touch with current trends within the short fiction market.

I began to scan the horror section of the bookstores again like a reluctant son who has returned home after years abroad. I visited a few old friends, caught up on what they had been up to while I was gone. I also discovered a few new friends – friends who, like me, were frustrated with what they had seen, but who, unlike me, didn’t abandon the genre and instead choose to change it. Horror welcomed me back like a good parent does. And Horror wasn’t jealous, it allowed me keep my other loves – fantasy and science fiction.

Needless to say, horror is still my preferred genre, but I’m much more picky about who I read. I don’t want to go through that frustration again. And I’d say that overall, my attention is divided fairly equally between all three genres. (But truthfully I scan the horror section first before sliding over to the fantasy and sci-fi section). Also because of the list, I noticed that I rarely ever read non-fiction books and have taken steps to rectify.

To many, I’m sure that keeping a list of what I read seems a bit odd, but I’ve honestly learned a few things about myself, and think it’s been more than worth the effort.

lisafisher3889578897 said...
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