With summer officially upon me, it means that I am now privy to two of my favorite things–reading and summer TV. With several of my favorite shows returning in the next month, I’ll probably come back to those, but today I want to talk about the passion that eventually dictated my career–reading.
When people find out that I am an English teacher, they generally ask me one of two things. The first involves telling me that my field is becoming obsolete because no one reads, no writes, no one cares, and there is no career or purpose in the study of literature. The question here is basically, “Don’t you agree that your life’s passion is useless?” Depending on the asker and the company, I have several answers to that, none of which are relevant to today’s topic.
The other question I get, usually from older people, is: “I would like to encourage my child/teenager to read. What do you suggest? What do you read?” My response is always the same: “Well, what do you read?” The majority of the time the parent just looks sheepishly at the ground and admits they aren’t much of a reader. Some are bolder and just tell me point blank they don’t care or don’t like to read. But they want their kids to? This is a point I could argue for hours, but instead, I start by saying, “I read everything I can.”
This is the truth. I read novels, I read non-fiction, I read plays, I read newspapers, I read magazines . . . generally if it’s in print, I give it a whirl. That being said, I am still not as well-read as I would like to be. I have friends who rush out the day a book is released and buy it. It usually takes me a few months to get to something, unless it is a work I have been anticipating (such as Bret Easton Elis’ follow up to Less Than Zero–I have that on pre-order). But whether or not I’m not reading a new release, I am always reading. Reviewing the pile on my nightstand at the moment, a series of categories emerge that I find to be highly indicative of my reading style and tastes.
Something New Right now on the top of my pile is Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist. Released May 3, it took me almost three weeks to get it because I had to order it. (I stupidly assumed that my local B&N would carry it.) Although the book is not a challenging read, it is more literary than some of the other occupants on my nightstand. This represents the intellectual category–books that I have never read before that actually require me to pay attention. Sometimes, they are just works of well-crafted fiction, sometimes they are more challenging reads. Most of the time they aren’t even particularly new works–they are just new to me. These more challenging reads I have to save for summer because I can’t focus enough during the semester to really process the work.
Fluff Although I have finished reading it, I still haven’t removed that latest Sookie Stackhouse novel from the pile, partly because I haven’t found a replacement yet. My fluff readings are also books I haven’t read yet, but tend to be paperbacks or commercial genre fiction that require little to no concentration. I don’t just deal with chick-lit (in fact, I rarely read chick-lit unless I hear good things from other people); this category also includes light-weight thrillers (such as Dan Brown or James Patterson) and the YA fiction which is often times better than adult level works.
Reruns Very rarely do I get rid of a book when I am finished reading it. Even if I hated it, I generally will keep it to go back later and reread. It’s funny how tastes can change. For example, I was in college when I read Bridget Jones Diary and I thought it was utter self-indulgent crap. Five years later I picked it up again and was surprised that once I wasn’t in a shroud of undergrad pretension, I actually enjoyed the unique nature of the character Fielding had created, along with her sly little winks at Austen’s prototype. (I still, however, think the second one is crap.) In this category, I seem to cycle through books that I have read before. Sometimes I will read something that I have only read once. But more frequently, I reread the same roughly twenty works, most of which have been read at least five times. At the moment I am in the middle of Forever Amber, one of my very favorite works of historical fiction.
School Related or Non-Fiction This tends to change depending on my academic status. Last fall I was a student (I like to take graduate classes when I can to get hours above my masters and improve my overall knowledge. Plus, it keeps my brain from getting soggy). During that time this space was occupied by things like Renaissance Drama: An Anthology and an overload of philosophical texts on the role of ‘other’ and Aristotle in justification of native treatment during the Spanish colonization of Latin America (and most of those were even less interesting than that description, save the one on Native witchcraft). This spring I gave myself a pass on school and instead read a variety of non-fiction works, most about WWII from my grandfather’s collection. Right now this slot is occupied by The Strange Case of Hellish Nell, a thoroughly researched work about the last woman to be tried for witchcraft in Britain. Absolutely captivating as it combines two of my favorite things– Britain during WWII, and witch trials.
Magazines This is probably the most random pile of them all because magazines are my short handed way of indulging all of my vices and virtues. The top of the pile is Entertainment Weekly, a magazine I have gotten since junior high. It’s on top because it’s the only weekly one. It’s also the only one I tend to read cover to cover. Then there’s Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. I try to read as much of these as I can, but anyone who has cracked the cover of either one can tell you that some of those articles need their own zip codes. National Geographic is a family tradition and I generally read all its articles as they are concise and enlightening. But lest you think I am too scholarly in my magazines, the pile also contains Better Homes and Gardens, Elle, InStyle, and at the moment FitPregnancy and Pregnancy and Newborn.
In general, I read roughly four books and a slew of magazines simultaneously. What I pick up on any given day depends on my mood, level of focus, and time constraints. On a day when my daughter is at school, I am more likely to pick up one of the more challenging works. If I’m reading with Monsters, Inc. or Up playing in the background while confirming to my daughter that, yes, those are balloons, it’s more of a fluff day.
I could give a long list of books I suggest for every occasion, but I think I will save that for another day. My main plea, no matter your age, is to read anything you can, even if it’s just an article about how to make the perfect chicken nugget. And for those who complain of being slow readers, reading is like running–the more you do it, the stronger you get.