Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What An Astonishing Thing A Book Is

I studied English (among other things) in college, and then I taught it to students. Books have always occupied a substantial space in my life; but for what feels like a very long time, required reading has displaced personal reading. The books I read because they spoke to me were few and far between. I missed the feeling of immersing myself in a novel, getting lost in its world, because even the books that interested me needed to be read with a deconstructive mind. What points will I highlight in my paper? What passages will I critique or question in class? How can I help my students dismantle the text, and which parts will I have them study before they piece it back together? Where is the intersection between enjoying, engaging, and internalizing?

These were important questions, but they failed to satisfy every corner of my book-loving heart. To remedy this, I made a resolution to read at least one new book--a book I had never read before, not just an old favorite--per month, selected and digested entirely for my own pleasure. I had a shaky start. January was a rough month, during which the only new book I read was the one I taught to my students. My pathetically early failure did inspire me to stop making so many damn excuses, and I began carving out space. Even if I waited until the last weekend of the month to curl up all day on the couch, book in hand, the attitude of viewing my reading-for-self as a requirement rather than as a reward actually helped me to find the time to get it done.

(Incidentally, I've heard this strategy repeated ad nauseum in terms of getting oneself to the gym. I never fared so well with that one, though. Books before biceps, man! Or whatever.)

Nine months down the road, I'm doing great with my resolution! It's much easier to find time to read these days with my shiny new schedule; but I'm still weirdly proud of my ability to find reading time in say, April, when I changed students and syllabi three times and was also re-reading/teaching various novels and plays to those students. Making the time to read was well worth the effort. It reminds me of being kid, coming home from the library with a stack full of books and tearing my way through the pile throughout the next week. It feels like coming home.

Here are some of the novels I've read so far this year. You'll notice that they span a variety of categories, genres, and lengths, which is exactly the kind of refresher I've needed. My top three picks are starred! Click on the titles to link through to the Amazon pages for more info.

January: Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie - Jordan Sonnenblick
February: The Fault in Our Stars - John Green*
March: The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff
April: City of Thieves - David Benioff*
May: The Red Garden - Alice Hoffman; and Beautiful Ruins - Jess Waters*
June: Love Walked In - Marisa de los Santos
August: The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
September: Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; and The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
Incidentally, I've also been lurking in the fanfiction world again recently. Typically, I would not add a fanfic to this list; but I have read a couple novel-length standouts in the past few months that might be worth including. One in particular was so affecting that I wrote a proper review of it last week! When I'm done being traumatized by the story, I'll perhaps clean it up and post it on here...because, really, how could I not give a big, fat, fanfic shout-out?

Happy reading! =)

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