Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, but as the end of the year approaches, I’ve got something on my mind, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about it. As some of you may remember, I’ve attempted in the past to read books I buy within four years of when I acquire them. If I don’t read a book by then, out it goes (with some exceptions). Note that I said “in the past.” This year, I’m left with 13 unread books. I could discard some of these with no regrets, but others are more difficult. Some aren’t available in my local library, and I still genuinely want to read them. So I’m holding onto them, with the hope of reading them this year.
My failure to keep my usual resolution got me thinking about how I choose what I read. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I like to read a mix of old and new books in all sorts of genres. I like doing some planning, but this year I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in reading by whim, picking up what looks good in the library or what others are talking about at the moment.It was especially gratifying this year to pick up something like The People in the Trees on Jenny’s recommendation and then watch as other bloggers decided to give it a try. I also had tremendous fun anticipating the twists to come in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, a series I was just beginning at this time last year.
Those kinds of experiences are difficult to plan for and are unlikely to happen if I cling too tightly to a commitment to read from my own shelves. Online book groups and group reads, like the Slaves of Golconda, can help generate conversation about books that are no longer in the spotlight. I’ve not been participating in those events much lately, and I may do that more in the new year. The Slaves are reading The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns in January, and I’ve got my copy on order and am looking forward to reading it! But I’ll be watching out of other events and group reads that incorporate books I’m interested in.
But even though setting the list aside has been great, reading from my own shelves has rewards, too, not the least of which is the freeing up of space. Just as it’s fun to watch people discover a relatively new book because I blogged about it, it’s also fun to see people rediscover a lost treasure because I blogged about it. And often lots of other people have already read these books that are languishing on my shelf and are eager to talk about them. I’ve noticed no great difference in the liveliness of the comments on old books versus new books. If anything, comments are more vibrant on posts about old books. Classics get some of the best comments of all, and my reading of classics has been way down lately, even though I’ve got heaps of them on my e-reader. (Out of sight means out of mind when it comes to the e-reader. I’d have read more of those books if I had hard copies.)
So all of this has gotten me thinking about whether are how I’m going to participate in James’s TBR Double Dog Dare this year. Each year, James dares his readers to read only from their TBR stacks from January 1 to April 1. Exceptions are allowed, and participants can join for a week or a month or all three months. I’ve taken the dare every year, with varying degrees of success. And I was all set to sign up for this year, when The Morning News posted the Long, Long List for the Tournament of Books in March.
I love the TOB. I love getting to see the judges’ logic for their choices, and I enjoy the smart comments about the books. It’s a wonderful blend of seriousness and silliness that acknowledges the value of good literature while recognizing that goodness is subjective. Every year, I wish I’d read more books in the Tournament, so I can enjoy comparing the judges’ rulings to my own opinions. And when the long list went up, I’d only read two books on it (Lila and The Paying Guests). I had one thought on how to deal with that:
Sounds reasonable, right? In the end, though, I decided that I’d just read the two books on the long, long list that I already had out from the library (Tigerman and The Fever) and hope that at least one or two of the four make it through to the brackets. But if they don’t (and maybe if they do), I’ll make a TBR Dare exception for TOB books I already intend to read. (Brown Girl Dreaming and Department of Speculation are on that list, and there are several others I’ve been pondering. If there are any I must try, let me know in the comments.)
So my TBR Dare plan is as follows: From January 1 to April 1, I’ll only read books that I own, either in print or electronic form or as e-galleys. I will not request any new e-galleys for books releasing before April 1. I will make exceptions for books that make it into the Tournament of Books that I was already planning to read and books from the swap Jenny and I do each year. As always, I can drop out of the Dare at any time, if my interest in some other book becomes too great to deal with and the restriction takes away from my pleasure in reading and talking about my reading.
Now that I’ve got my own thinking out of the way, I’d like to hear from you. How do you balance old and new, owned and unowned when deciding what to read? How much planning do you do and how much do you read by whim? And how important is the potential for conversation about books when you make reading choices? (In other words, do you read books so you can join the conversation about them?) Which choices seem to be working best for you, and what are you thinking about changing?