If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I like to read a lot of different kinds of books (as does Jenny). One week, I might be reading Stephen King, then Charlotte Brontë, then Kazuo Ishiguru, and then Sarah Vowell. I read from different genres, different periods, different styles, trying to seek out the best of just about everything. It’s a fun and satisfying way to read.
But this way of reading is not without its drawbacks. I sometimes feel like a literary Jane of all trades and master of none. There are some periods and genres I’m more knowledgeable about than others, but there are tremendous gaps—often massive gaping holes—in my knowledge of just about every genre I read from. I can hardly think of any authors whose complete works I’ve read. Sometimes I look at folks who specialize, and I get a little jealous of their depth of understanding. What joy to analyze the evolution of the Gothic novel or the ancient epic or the contemporary space opera! The part of me that’s greedy for knowledge loves the idea of becoming an expert in something specific like that.
In my heart, I know I’d never be happy specializing in one genre or period, but years ago, I did go on reading jags from time to time when I’d voraciously read a whole bunch of books on a particular topic or in a particular style. For instance, there was a period after college when I’d go straight to the mysteries section of the library and get an arm load of books, only occasionally venturing into the regular fiction section. When I was in college, I read almost nothing but 19th- and early 20th-century classic novels, even for pleasure reading. When I discovered a new-to-me author or a new series, I’d read all the books I could get my hands on by that author or in that series. I was greedy for depth.
Thinking about it, though, I wonder if there’s a way to get at least a taste of that kind of depth without becoming devoted to one kind of literature. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers take on projects, maybe focusing on something specific for a week or a month or a season—or else reading a book every week or two on a particular topic over the course of a year. That’s something I think I could do. What I think would work best for me is to spend a month or so focusing on something a few times a year, not in any formal way or as part of a challenge or anything (that starts to look like work), but just as a fun little reading jag to enjoy until I get restless.
So to start, Jenny and I have been exchanging ideas, and we’re thinking of spending January enjoying international crime fiction. We’re both huge crime fiction fans, but most of the mysteries and crime novels we read are U.S. and U.K.-based, and we know there’s a lot of good crime fiction out there (and not all of it is Scandinavian!) I’m looking forward to giving some new-to-me authors a try in this short experiment in focused reading.
What about you? Do you prefer to stay focused in your reading, or do you leap from one thing to another? Do you see advantages or disadvantages to either approach?
In Other News: Thanks so much to whomever nominated Shelf Love for Book Blogger Appreciation Week awards in Literary Fiction, Eclectic, and Best Writing. We know how difficult it is to choose which blogs to nominate (we sure couldn’t nominate all our favorites), so we are pleased and honored that you thought of us. We decided to accept the nominations in the Literary Fiction and Writing categories.