The hard life of a reader

Reader’s life is hard. There are all these books, and only 24 hours in a day (sleep is for the weak). My TBR pile could actually be used as structural support in my house.

Ok, I’m obviously not entirely serious, even if ‘so many books, so little time’ despair strikes me at least once a week.

A few days ago Lev Grossman penned a great article or, as he calls it, a meditation, about liking/not liking books and about reviews.  He writes: “Why do I hate it? Part of the problem is that I know that I’m supposed to like it. It’s a terrible thing for a book, when you feel like you’re supposed to like it.”

I know the feeling. There are books that just everybody seems to like, and yet I cannot get through them. And I’m not talking about books that also have a huge crowd of haters, like Fifty Shades of Grey — I am talking about books people whose literary tastes I respect have loved and recommended. And then they mention them and you go ‘umm, dude, I’m sorry, I fell asleep after 20 pages.’

Here’s something else I hate. I pick up a book, read the first 50 pages, like them, then I put the book down and absolutely do not want to pick it up again. Despite the fact that I was enjoying it while actually reading it. I have a book like that on my nightstand right now. How is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe the story is not so interesting, but the writing is beautiful. Maybe it’s just not memorable enough. So it sits there, mentally nagging at me every day: ‘come on, Ellie, I know your OCD will not let you get away with not finishing a book you actually enjoyed’.

I’ve been recording every book I’ve read since 2005. It’s a nice list, and I like to go over it occasionally to see if I can remember where I was at a particular moment in time. Books are apparently good memory markers for me. And yet every year I write down books I do not remember reading  at all. Did I read them in my sleep? Did my clone read them?

Then there are books I remember reading, but I will never be able to tell you what they were about. No character names, no plot points, nothing. Which in itself doesn’t actually mean much, because I have terrible memory for books and movies. I can reread the same book twice in the same year. I sort of remember the general idea, but details are gone. New book in a series coming out? I have to reread all the ones before it. I got away with going to see Dark Knight Rises today without re-watching the other two. I don’t know how I pulled that off. But still, it is a little sad that I spent some time reading something that is now completely gone from my memory.

Notice that, like Grossman, I don’t mention what books caused me such hardship. Because your mileage may vary. I recommend and handsell books to people every day, and it always amazes me how much they are willing to trust a stranger with their book choices. All reviews I write are just my own thoughts, even if those thoughts also do not exist in a vacuum — I might be predisposed to like a book because a friend liked it, or I might hate it because I read it with headache, who knows. You have no way of knowing all the reasons why I liked or disliked something. And neither, really, do I. But I at least try to tell you why, and I simply like telling people about books I read, which is basically why I write this blog. Thanks for reading. Now go back to reading all those books, chop chop!

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5 comments

  1. Part of the reason why I started my blog was because, like you, I noticed there were books that I’d read where I’d completely forgotten the plot. Writing about them makes them more memorable.

    1. I guess teachers at school were right — if you write an essay about something, you’ll remember it better 🙂 All the Lives He Led would probably be completely gone from my head by now if not for the review.

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