A List of Books I Might Want to Read. Maybe.
Friday, April 05, 2019
I was thinking today about my process for choosing the books I end up reading. Sometimes (always?) this is overwhelming because there are SO MANY BOOKS I want to read! Right now, in fact, I have three YA books, three novels, and five non-fiction books checked out. I'm actively reading two of the novels but I want to be reading all of the books.
And then every time I go to work I read about some other new book (or ten) that sounds so good.
But as my reading time is limited, and as reading is not the only thing I want to do (because I also want to make all the quilts and run all the miles and scrapbook all the pictures, and then sometimes I have to clean my house and do the laundry), I am fairly picky about what I actually end up reading. (Even if I do request the library to buy a book, and then I check it out, I probably only read 25% of what I bring home. Dismal, I know.) Partly because I am easily beset by non-rational guilt. I shouldn’t feel guilty about sitting down to read. But I always do. The guilt is lessened if I’m reading something really, really good. I mean, it’s my karmic duty as a bibliophile and lover of beautiful writing and all things word-related to pay attention to the excellent books, right? I don’t need to feel guilty for books that are more than an escape.
My pickiness gets sharper and sharper the more buzz a book has. This is really because if everyone is reading a book, I don't want to read it. It stems back to my adolescent angst and the dressed-in-black goth girl who is still a part of me. I want to think I am cool and hip and a trend setter. (Even though I know I am none of those things!) Is a book good because it fits my "good book" criteria, which is often different from what everyone else seems to love, or is it good because everyone else loves it?
The books in this list are some I've heard a lot of people talk about, which seem like they would almost be just my kind of novel. But maybe not. They might suffer the same fate as the other 75% of books I check out: hauled home, stacked in my scrappy space, the first few pages read, then returned. Or I might just love them.
And you know...as a book lover, that is just not too difficult or painful of a problem to have!
Inspection by Josh Malerman. A story about genius teenagers, who are each trained at a gender-specific facility, and what happens when a male and a female student meet each other. Why I'm interested: just the kind of science-fiction story I tend to like, and besides, books in any sort of boarding school are my jam. Plus it seems like a blend of Never Let Me Go and The Knife of Never Letting Go, two novels I loved. My hesitation: a negative review from PW, plus I tried to read Unbury Carol, also by this author, and the writing style didn't really grab me. On the other hand: the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, and Keith Donohue make me think I maybe just didn't give Unbury Carol enough time. BUT! EVERYONE has read and raved about Bird Box. I resist jumping on bandwagons.
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I KNOW! Everyone adores this novel. I think I would enjoy it, a story about a 70s rock band and their internal strife & romance. Why I'm interested: I mean, I know most people like music. But music has been a shaping force for me, even though I am completely incapable of creating it. (Maybe because I can't sing and I never learned to read music?) So a novel about a band is one of my favorite things. My hesitation: everyone adores it. I start getting suspicious when something is getting a lot of buzz. Is it buzzy because it's really good? Or is it buzzy because everyone's buzzing about it? On the other hand: "Read Daisy and the Six" just keeps coming back to me. Almost like a prompting. BUT! Remember what I wrote about bandwagons?
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Tracker, whose keen sense of smell helps him locate almost anyone, travels through a medieval Africa searching for a lost boy. Why I'm interested: A Booker-prize-winning author writing fantasy? And it's non-Eurocentric? and dark and twisty? OK. You've got me. My hesitation: two things. One is that I am always reluctant to start an unfinished trilogy. It's just too difficult to keep track of plot lines. Two is probably dumb and maybe sexist of me...but the older I get the more I resist reading male writers or books that mainly have male characters. On the other hand: I enjoy quest stories so much. BUT! Many reviewers call this an "African Game of Thrones," and while you know I love dark & twisty, my psyche could only handle the first GoT book. It was just too dismal and it actually took me awhile to trust writers again after reading Game of Thrones. Will Black Leopard be as unbearably dark?
Machines like Me by Ian Mcewan. Set in an alternate version of London in the 1980s, this is the story of Miranda, her downstairs neighbor and boyfriend Charlie, who invests his inheritance on an AI prototype, and Adam, the artificial intelligence. Why I'm interested: an AI who writes haiku because it will eventually be the only form of communication; plus, I think it could be an intriguing exploration of identity and humanity. My hesitation: I loved and adored and continually think about Mcewan's novel Atonement. But Sweet Tooth made me so angry that I haven't read a Mcewan novel since. On the other hand: Maybe I should just try him again. Just to see if I like Atonement or I like Mcewan's work. BUT! Now that I think about it, am I really interested in a novel about beings of artificial intelligence? Or am I just getting on a bandwagon of a different (High British Literature) sort?
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. A Jamacian-British woman's very bad year of trying to get over a breakup with her boyfriend. Why I'm interested: Dare I confess it's for the cover? I really like the cover. No, really, that isn't the only thing. It's set in London, for one. And it seems like the type of novel that is as much about the protagonist's relationship with her family and friends as it is about love and/or romance. And also to prove that I am not an aging old fuddy-duddy who's too uptight to read a funny-and-sweet romance. My hesitation: Maybe I am too old to read this kind of book? And maybe I've been a fuddy-duddy my whole life, and reading Queenie will just remind me of how unadventerous my life has been? And of how things that are funny to most people are just never funny to me? On the other hand: You just never know what you'll find in a book. Maybe this will surprise me, even though I don't know where that optimism is coming from. BUT! Several reviewers have said this is a black Bridget Jones's Diary, which, gah. Why can't books just be what they are, instead of another version of a different book? Is it really like the first book? Or is that comparison made as a way to draw attention to it?
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Grey. Three sisters, Althea, Viola, and Lillian, have to contend with each other, their shared history, and their daughters when one of the sisters is arrested. Why I'm interested: I am drawn to stories about sisters, and currently I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between aunts and nieces, which I think this looks at. Plus: my friend Karenika loved it, and she has great taste. My hesitation: OH. MY. GOSH. I can't even clearly explain why, but I just really don't like the title. It feels too ambitious and showy. Like it's trying too hard to be cool. (WAIT! Am I trying too hard to be cool?) On the other hand: books with awful titles can still be really, really good (I'm thinking of you, A Heart in a Body in the World). BUT! Again with the comparison: this one is compared often to An American Marriage, which I loved, and I don't want to set up an expectation and then be disappointed.
And, finally, to prove I am not entirely a curmudgeonly, snooty old librarian, here's a list of new(ish) books I have absolutely no hesitations about:
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. Fairy tale retelling.
Women Talking by Miriam Towes. A group of women in a Mennonite community confront their attackers.
Normal People by Sally Rooney. A friendship between two teenagers in Dublin.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. A friendship between two sea divers in Korea.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson. An illness springs up in a university town that causes people to sleep without waking.
Have you read any of them? What did you think? And how do you choose your books?