The Onslaught of Books

Photo Credit: Upsplash

I’ve always been interested in books. I loved having my parents read to me at night. I loved reading to myself once I was able to. I even created a “reading after I’m supposed to be in bed” kit, complete with snacks and a flashlight, that I promptly bragged about to my mom, who made me disassemble the kit. For birthdays and holidays I always wanted gift certificates to book stores. The adults in my life never monitored what I read, so I read whatever I could get my hands on. I’m sure I read some books that were out of my depth, but they kind of went over my head and life moved on.

Books are my entertainment, my escape, my source of knowledge. Books are the surest way to engage me in a conversation, unless I’m almost done with a book and you’re trying to talk to me. I’m not being rude for ignoring you; you’re being rude for interrupting me. Throughout my adult life, I have bought more books than I could read in 15 years. And new ones keep being published! It’s a lot to keep up with, financially and time-management-wise.

One of my favorite books to peruse when I’m not sure what I want to read is Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books. This is a collection of the column he wrote for Believer. Each month he lists the books he’s purchased or received and the books he actually read, then writes about them. The book is wonderful in and of itself, but it also shows you that “the books we buy are almost as important as those we read.” (Taken from the introduction, written by Jess Walter) For so many readers, books become our identity.

I can’t help myself! But I need to start showing some restraint.

I opened my Amazon account when I went off to college. That was a lot of fun. Books practically on demand! Despite going to a Division 1 college, we didn’t have much of a bookstore in town. Not even a used bookstore. Amazon was a revelation. Then there were the advances. Amazon Prime (2 day free shipping!). The Kindle (almost any book, any time!). Shut up and take my money!

I somehow stumbled across Goodreads when I was a junior in college. That’s when my book buying got out of hand. I got so many recommendations from so many corners. Classics, which I was already determined to read because of Gilmore Girls. New releases. Even recent releases. Before Goodreads, I hadn’t read a lot of 21st century fiction. If the book had enough recommendations from Goodreads users that I liked, chances were I would buy it. I wound up wasting a lot of money books I’m sure I never read and wound up donating during a massive clean out.

Goodreads led to Twitter, led to book blogs, led to Instagram. More and more connections with people as passionate about books as me. More and more titles recommended that I’ve bought and haven’t read.

I remember the craze over The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Everyone in the online book community had read it and loved it. I bought a copy. I tried to read it. I liked something about it, but I couldn’t get into it. I agonizingly DNF’ed it. From there for a long time, I would not read the latest most buzzed about books until the dust had settled and I could make a more informed decision on whether to buy it. There were some notable exceptions based on personal preferences–I knew I wanted to read Go Set a Watchman as soon as it came out–but I tried to stay moderate. I still bought a ton of books that I never read, but they were usually backlist.

Fast-forward to this year. I fell into the trap again. Without naming names or titles, this spring I’ve bought three much-hyped books that have been flops for me. Not only did I buy them, I freaking pre-ordered them so that I could read them on release day. That’s how much I drank the Kool-Aid. These books were mentioned by two bookstagrammers whom I like and who I love interacting with. But the books didn’t hit it for me. I even finished one of them…because it was on my Kindle. (I feel like I’m less noisy while my fiance is sleeping if I’m reading my Kindle). The other two languish on my shelves. I’m sure I’ll finish them at some point because they aren’t bad, but all these other books floating around my house seem so much more appetizing. Another bookstagrammer constantly mentions books that I wind up loving. Just today I wound up ordering one book she mentioned and pre-ordered another, out in June.

This led to some introspection on my part. As I’m starting a new career in a pretty volatile field, I need to be more careful with my money. I know I should use the library more often. But I like owning my books. That way I can write in them. Throw them across the room. Leave them partially finished for 6 months and come back to the same spot. Thrust them in the face of my best friend with a “You’ve got to read this, or we can’t be friends any longer!” I think for the time being, I will have to be more careful with book recommendations. I will have to consider the source more. Do a bit less pre-ordering, unless I’m SURE it’s going to be a winner for me (like the new Elizabeth Gilbert out in June). Take full advantage of the free samples that Kindle will send.

What are your tips for dealing with the constant onslaught of new releases?

Review of Behold America

Behold America by Sarah Churchwell, Published by Perseus Books on 9 October 2018

I received a free egalley of this title for review via NetGalley.

This book is so my jam. I have a Master’s in History. At my first committee meeting, one of the members asked for a list of every history class I had taken. Upon furnishing the list, he told me I needed to venture out of the 20th century. I sadly did so in my remaining semesters. BUT I love 20th century American history. I keep returning to it. I think the century is rich in topics to study. I think that this is a great topic because of how timely it is.

The subtitle of this book is “The Entangled History of ‘America First’ and ‘The American Dream.'” Two phrases that are thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras nowadays. Churchwell examines the origins of these phrases and how they have changed meaning over time as different groups have adopted them and used them. Spoiler–today their usage bears little resemblance to their initial meaning. The concept of “America first” has historically been tied to white nationalist groups. The “American dream” initially had little to do with personal, individual prosperity, but focused on the ability to live a more generous life. Churchwell traces these changes in meaning from their earliest usages in the Gilded Age up through today.

Churchwell takes the perfect approach in her study. She uses the words of ordinary people as opposed to the words of politicians or writers, which better highlights the widespread understanding and meaning of these phrases over time. Their meaning for ordinary people shows why they are used by politicians. Politicians use phrases that either prey on the fears of their followers or inspire them to action. For me, this approach helps make the connection of why politicians keep turning to these phrases. This use of primary source material creates a much stronger basis for her arguments.

Her writing is extremely accessible. I hate wading through incredibly dense histories. Fortunately, though a heavy topic, Churchwell wrote about it in an engaging way. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history or likes reading about current events. I appreciate how she kept tying together the parallels between the past and current events. In order to create a better future for the country, we have to know where we came from.

Bottom line–I really enjoyed this book. It’s the kind of history book I enjoy reading. It’s the kind of history book I went to grad school to write. It’s very informative and it’s very timely. Read it.

Books I’ve Read Since the Bar

Reading has been my source of relaxation ever since I learned how to read. Of course, as a child, I didn’t realize that reading before bedtime was relaxing; it was just what I did. I made it a point to read for pleasure throughout college and grad school. I started 10 times more books than I ever finished during college and grad school. I just didn’t always or usually have the time to get lost in a book enough for it to grab me and not let me go. I still finished books, but not that many. It was pretty depressing and frustrating, to be honest.

I even read for pleasure throughout law school. I just needed something to take my mind off of all of the cases and crap that I just didn’t care about. One of my professors overheard me talking to a friend (also a reader) about reading such and such book. He said, “Wow! You guys are actually able to read outside of class reading?” Rather than saying, “Shit, I read instead of doing class reading!” I said that I had to read otherwise I’d kill people. That interaction stuck with me–just how rare it is for adults, even highly educated adults, to read for pleasure.

After law school was the bar exam. This entailed 8 to 10 to 12 hours of hell per day, six days a week (because I just wouldn’t do seven). But I still read some. There was actually an afternoon and a half where I said “Screw it; I need to read” and I read 3/4 of a John Grisham book, figuring that if I read about lawyers that might count a little bit.

Then came that wonderful day–March 1, 2018–the day after I had taken the bar exam. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t want to look for a job. I could have applied for an intermediate license to practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney during the waiting period, but I didn’t. I just wanted to read and day drink until bar results came out, then determine my fate. This was the most glorious time of my life. I didn’t even give a shit whether I passed. Occasionally, I’d think about what I’d do if I didn’t pass (which was not take the bar exam again and disappoint my family). But mostly I just read. And day drank.

I should have kept a better record of the books I read between March 1 and the day I got sworn-in (I did a book purge and got rid of some I knew I wouldn’t read again without writing down the ones I’ve finished). But I have a casual record of what I read during my 5 weeks of perfect freedom (which actually is kind of still on-going because I still don’t have a job…) . . .

August: Osage County

The Immortalists

The Virgin Suicides

The Idiot

How to Get Your Shit Together

Lamb

The Flamethrowers

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit

Tangerine

A Book of Common Prayer

Sweetbitter

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Sex and Rage

Just Kids

Calypso

The Rules Do Not Apply

How Did You Get This Number

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

Meaty

Play It as It Lays

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Tiny Beautiful Things

Little Fires Everywhere

The Adults

The Wife Between Us

 

The 25 books that I can remember. I am quite confident that a few were donated and I just forgot about them. But I’m pretty happy with that number in 3 and a half months. Some of those had been plaguing me for ages! But I also donated without reading several that had plagued me for ages.

I also kind of have gone through a spell of reading about a third of a book and then setting it aside. I’ll tabulate that list another day. I think that a third is still a substantial amount of a book. And I’m not definitely never going to finish those books; I’m just not finishing them right now.