This Need to Read

I don’t remember learning to read. I don’t remember ever not reading. Reading is a reflex action, as much a part of my life as eating or breathing. Put anything with printing in English in front of my face, and I will read it. I identify with bookish characters in books: Matilda, Hermione, Harriet Vane. I read paperbacks in bed, the newspaper at breakfast, my e-reader on the bus.

I cannot not read.

Many of my childhood memories are connected with reading: lazing in bed with a book on Sunday morning before anyone else in the house was up. Reading in the cool basement den to escape the North Carolina summer heat. Working my way through the shelves in the school library. Experiencing the joy of a new author who fired my imagination. Wandering through the overcrowded stacks in the old Gaston County Public Library, a home away from home, before it moved to a shiny, new, and much bigger building on Garrison Boulevard. (Showing my age here. That move was decades ago.)

You would think, wouldn’t you, that with more books being published than ever before—with such an embarrassment of riches to choose from—I’d be as happy as Larry*, right?

Well, no. So many books, so little time. For every book I take out of my TBR (To Be Read) pile, I add two or three more.

This little matter of a full-time day job has a bad habit of getting in the way of my attempts to read for hours on end, day after day. So do family obligations, and my own writing.

And so I don’t have nearly enough time to search out the jewels, and separate them from the dreck. There is a lot of good fiction being published these days. There is also an awful lot of rubbish being published. With hundreds of thousands of new titles being published every year, we’re drowning in books. How do we pick out the good ones? Recommendations and reviews on retailers and publishers sites are useful but limited—they are, after all, trying to game the system to get you to notice and buy their products. And even rave reviews by readers with no financial interest in a book does you no good if you don’t share their concept of what makes a book good. Given some books that have made the bestsellers lists, there must be thousands of readers who adore books I’ve considered boring, lame, excessively violent, cringe-inducing, badly written, or otherwise inadequate.

So how do we pick out the good ones? One way is to find other readers with similar interests, and swap recommendations. I’ve found plenty of bloggers offering up their own lists of favourites, but few whose tastes align with mine. Maybe, by offering up my own lists, I’ll help some books I’ve enjoyed find a wider audience.

*I never heard the expression ‘happy as Larry’ before coming to New Zealand, but he seems to be the measure here for blissful existence. Apparently he was an 18th century prize-fighter who won a large purse on his last fight, making him one happy dude.

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