Over the course of this past semester, I read and reviewed a series of novels, analyzing how each fit the typical characteristics of the genre. I enjoyed this project as a whole, especially the additional component of discussing the novels with my classmates. It was like having a mini book club each week! I feel that I learned a good bit about genres and classifying novels, and gained experience talking about books in terms of such characteristics. I did not, however, expand my taste in books. I found that I liked the genres I thought I would, and did not like the genres I expected to dislike (ugh, The Notebook!). This could have been the power of expectation, or poor title choices on my part, but either way, it was not as horizon-expanding as I had hoped. Nor did I become any more comfortable in providing reader’s advisory (book suggestions) to others. It was, however, a step in the right direction and both enjoyable and educational. It has also inspired me to keep posting on my blog. Overall, I would say it was a solid success.
One of my classes this semester is ‘Adult Materials and Reading Interests.’ The majority of the class will be spent reading and learning about different genres of popular fiction, from mystery, to western, to science fiction, and beyond. I am looking forward to experiencing the many genres that I have not read on my own, both to become more aware of what’s out there and to expand my personal reading interests. Although I am dreading a few of the genres (romance and horror, mainly), I know it will be good for me (expanding horizons, figuring out what so many people actually like about them, better preparing to work in a library, etc.).
I’ll be writing a short report on each book I read for the class, which will touch on both the book itself and the genre as a whole. I plan on sharing those reports here on my blog, both to get back into posting regularly and because I expect it to be an interesting journey through the world of fiction.
I intentionally try to read a variety of classics and books that are recommended to me, and often go to a library to find at least one random book that interests me. This will be my first time to intentionally broaden my reading in a strategic manner, however, and I am excited to see how it goes.
For the first time, I have become a regular attendant of a book club. There’s actually two book clubs, each meeting once a month at a nearby library, but the members are essentially identical between the two. One reads classics and the other reads relatively recent popular books. I’ve always wanted to join a book club, and am glad that I finally have. While finishing The House of the Seven Gables tonight for tomorrow’s meeting, I was reflecting on how being in a book club has affected my reading.
First and foremost, it affects what books I read. Although the members decide among themselves which books to read, and I did contribute specific titles to the list for the next several months, I am now reading books that I would probably not otherwise read. Right now I am not reading much more than the two proscribed books a month, though I do plan to change that after the semester is over. Although not all of the books would be my first (or fifth or fiftieth) pick, I do appreciate what I’m reading. I do want to read a wide variety of the classics, and I like that I am being exposed to more genres of popular fiction than I would otherwise read. Recent picks for the popular literature discussion group include The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared and Daddy’s Girl, neither of which would have ever been on my radar otherwise.
For my first couple of meetings, I came prepared with a list of specific thoughts and discussion questions about the book, but I have since decided that it’s not worth doing so. The librarian leading the discussion brings a list of questions, and it often would require disrupting the normal conversation flow to bring up my own questions. The group generally has a very smooth flow of discussion around the book, and I’ve found that it’s more fun to think and contribute on the fly than to sit down independently to think about the book beforehand. That being said, I do often have a few nagging thoughts about each book that I tend to bring up, but it’s not a full list of reflections and questions.
The constraint of reading a specific book by a specific date does sometimes impact how I read that book. Occasionally I find that I do not have time to finish a book I would like to, and catch up on Sparknotes to be prepared for the discussion. Having done so, I’m not often interested in investing the time to actually finish the book. Alternatively, I sometimes find myself finishing a book that I would not finish on my own for the sake of being prepared for discussion. This would probably be a good situation in which to turn to Sparknotes as well, but I would always rather read the original if I can. Neither of these habits would ever show up in my personal reading for pleasure, but don’t appear to me to really be problematic.
One final thought is on the nature of the group itself. We always have very lively discussions and come to many insights about the book. The discussion questions often lead me to discover aspects of or think about the book in different ways. Even when not a single member likes the book, we have interesting and productive discussions. That being said, the group can seem oddly impersonal at times. We tend to jump right into discussion of the book without much beginning small talk, continue for 90 solid minutes, and drift off unceremoniously once the meeting is done. Although I am happy with this being a largely intellectual endeavor, it would be nice to make a few friends in the process. So starting with tomorrow’s meeting, I will specifically seek out small talk before or after the meeting.
Do any readers attend a book club? How does your experience compare?
A friend of mine recently shared with me that she is doing well on her goal of reading 30 books this year and plans to up her goal for 2016 to 35 books. She also encouraged me to set a goal for myself for 2016. At first, I thought this was a brilliant idea. I’ve read 28 books so far this year, so 35 in 2016 seems like it would be pretty doable. I love goals that I can check off progress toward, and I’m all about reading a lot.
Then I started wondering what the consequences of such a goal would be. I would probably avoid what I consider ‘project’ books (Atlas Shrugged, large Russian novels, etc) that would take up large amounts of time. I might specifically pick books that I can read more quickly just to up my number, searching through my unread books for the thinnest ones, or finish reading a book I might otherwise quit halfway through. These seem like ridiculous problems to have, but realistically, that’s probably what I would do. On the other hand, I do have plenty of smaller books on my bookcase that need to get read. I also have factors that determine which books I read that I do not fully control (such as book club) that would make sure I’m reading plenty of good novels. I can add a rule to the goal that I don’t finish a book that I’m not actually enjoying. There’s also the comforting fact that I have many years of reading left in my life, and those project books can probably wait another year (they’ve already waited this long, after all).
In the process of writing this post, I’ve decided that I will indeed give the straight number goal a try. In 2016, I aim to read 35 books. If it goes well, maybe 40 in 2017! If not, then no harm done and I’ll know better. For any goal-loving readers, what kind of reading goals have you made? How have they worked out for you?
Follow-up: 2016 started out very well, but got very busy halfway though and never really slowed down. To be honest, I forgot about having a goal at all, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Strictly speaking, I would consider my goal not-quite-but-almost-met. Stretching what is counted as a book, I met the goal and then some. In 2016, I read 33 regular books, 11 comic books, 5 children’s books, and 10 half-books that I started but gave up on.