The Problem (reading notes)

The Problem, really, is that I like far too many books.

I suppose that’s not the sort of problem that needs solving, but try to see it this way:

I have been told all my life about the “right” sort of books. The sort of books one ought to read.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

I tried to be very good about this (I tried to be very good about a lot of things) and carefully picked the older stories, or the ones that didn’t raise any eyebrows. And if they weren’t all books that I would jump to read again, well, they were most of them books I was glad to have read, because every one showed me something I didn’t know.

Now that I’ve officially grown up (I passed my 35th birthday this year), I don’t read a lot of new information in my fiction, but I like it for a different reason. I like it because it makes me feel; feel something I can predict, and understand, even quantify. Not only does it make me feel, it lets me see, observe, and it gives me a why. I love the whole package.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

And (low be it spoken) I like how it distracts me from what I can’t predict, understand or quantify. I’m a grown-up (I keep reminding myself) and I constantly deal with what takes a great deal of effort to control. If I can find a storyteller– a novelist, or television show– I can trust, it is a tremendous relief and break from the real world to go on a ride that (I always try to pick this kind) will end well.

I love to be in the presence of someone else who values their time, and mine, enough to spend it on a coherent story.

So I take the novel that interests me from the Young Adult section or the Children’s. I am seduced by the covers (matte, sooner than glossy), or titles, or even (embarrassing as this is to admit) pervasiveness. Yes, the more I see the same cover, the more curious I become, the more-likely I am to pick it up and give it a try.

Why is this a problem?

Two parts, well, three, actually. There’s the cost of indulging this interest and impulse (that was #3), there’s the question of to whom I address these book reviews and discussions of content if they aren’t narrowly defined (#1). There is also the question, left over from childhood of whether these books I’m reading are any good.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

There, I said it: I question whether I have the wherewithal to accurately evaluate a book. Isn’t that sad?

But so much depends on the content of the story, how it fits the audience. I remember loving a book that I knew I would never be able to recommend “without reservation or explanation,” but I couldn’t remember loving another novel more!

Then I realized that to express an opinion is to allow people to see the “real you.” How you think. And therefore a response to a piece of writing isn’t just about that piece of writing, it is a critique of how one thinks.

The hesitancy and self-doubt were at least as much about how strangers will be able to evaluate me based on what I see and say.

THAT is intimidating. That is silencing.

And one of my problems that I’ve never really been ashamed of (not ashamed enough to change, anyway) is that I’ve never been able to stay silent for long. It is not a natural state for me.

So I am using this problem, this overabundance of interest (and the walls of books in my writing room) to practice having an opinion. If I like a “bad” book, or nit-pick a “perfectly good” story, that will be me practicing honesty.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via

Always kindly, because kindness is exceedingly important to me, but also without the illusion of trying to keep everybody happy. The internet is full of book-lovers and reviewers of books. My hope is to find a pocket of analysts that are as concerned about gentleness as they are about precision.