Taken at the since closed (sniffle) Posman Books in Grand Central Station
Twice over the last month, Facebook friends have posted book recommendation requests on my timeline. Specifically, they asked for help deciding which book they should read among the many proffered on one (or, in this case, two) of those infernal list articles with names like “100 Books You Should Read Right This Moment.”
Now, I love being asked for book recommendations. It also happens to be true that I’ve written articles like the aforementioned, albeit with more modest numerical values (I’m a fan of 10, or even an eminently manageable five). So after scrolling through the titles on each list, I was quite embarrassed to have to admit, publicly, that I have yet to read a single one of those books. Not. One. Book.
Driving along the picturesque Merritt Parkway* to Hartford recently, on an exceedingly hot day, my eyes were feeling very dry, probably from the frigid air conditioner air blowing directly into them. As this is often a prelude to a contact lens getting stuck in a corner of my eye or popping out all together, I pulled over to hydrate and make sure I knew where my glasses were.** Watching the cars fly by as I tried to pull back onto the highway not three minutes later felt a lot like trying to keep up with the best and the latest. Pull off the road for a short spell, and you’ll have a heck of time trying to fall back in line.
Because – and you may be aware of this – a whole lotta books come out each day/week/month/year.
If I have anxiety about being up on the latest, it’s mostly because, in my reading life, I tend to go through stages, and my most recent stage has been All About Contemporary Fiction.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Before contemporary fiction, it was travel memoirs, a stage that lasted about two years.
Before travel memoirs, it was memoirs by or about Middle Eastern women, mostly from Iran (one year).
Before Middle Eastern women’s memoirs, it was memoirs more generally (two years).
Before memoirs, it was Japanese literature (two years)
Before Japanese literature, it was 19th century Russian literature (two years).
Before 19th century Russian literature, it was classic British novels, Trollope, Thackeray, and Fielding in particular (two years).
Before that … I can’t recall. Possibly only what I was being assigned in school. That was a thing for a while.
My contemporary fiction stage has lasted uncommonly long (according to trend): a solid five years. In fact, it has lasted so long that I’d begun to wonder if maybe it wasn’t so much a stage as just what I read now. I’ve been so enjoying being part of the conversation about the best and the latest books, attending author talks related to said books, and weighing in on which ones are up for which prizes and having a favorite I want to see win. In short, I’ve been having so much fun reading contemporary literature that I feel a little blindsided by what I sense is a change of direction. I keep picturing the weather vane in the film version of Mary Poppins, slowly, ominously flipping 180 degrees.
So questions: How do you decide what to read next? Do you go through stages of interest, or what?
* The Merritt Parkway: So pretty and so conducive to thinking.
** I’m so nearsighted, those old letter charts at the eye doctor’s office just looked like a big white blob to me. Ergo, me trying to drive without contacts or glasses = menace to society.