Reading has always been like eating and sleeping to me. For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books. I’m honestly not sure what I started with. The Hardy Boys? But I know at some point I started devouring Nancy Drew novels. I don’t even know if it was because I loved them or if it was because everyone my parents knew could count on that being a well-received gift. And there were lots of them. I kept reading. Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, trashy novels I’d sneak up in the middle of the night and borrow from my parents’ bookshelves, classics, Norwegian books, English books. I just READ.
And then I read for my degree. I have a Cand. Philol. (Master’s – M.A.) in English. I read literature out the wazoo. Loved it. Read Shakespeare. Read Beckett. Read Romantics, read 20th Century, read Chaucer. I read read read read. Now, I don’t necessarily go so ‘literary’ or classical. Here are the last 15 books I’ve read – I’ll discuss below.
When I finished my degree, I guess I had gotten a real taste for modern literature, and I tried to find everything I’d missed and everything still coming out in that vein. I read every Man Booker finalist, all the literary review books, and anything that smelled a LITTLE of ‘quality’ literary fiction. This way, I discovered Dancer by Colum McCann, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and many other gems. Good friends all those books.
Then for a few years here at the start of this decade, I read very little on a regular basis. My reading was limited to beach reading. That reading continued to be eclectic. But I’d read a book or two at the beach. Sometimes long ones.
I’ve always loved fantasy, but I stopped reading fantasy about 20 years ago. Nothing felt fresh anymore I guess. And, admittedly, I had my reading hands full with all my required course reading. During those years my ‘offtime’ reading moved from fantasy to legal thrillers, Stephen King, and what I think is loosely labeled ‘Women’s Fiction’ … Not full on romance, I have yet to hit that treasure trove, but things like Danielle Steele, Maeve Binchy … that sort of thing.
At some point, I discovered audio books. I started looking for Norwegian books, in particular on Audio books, to help keep up my mother tongue, even when I didn’t speak Norwegian to anyone for a year at a time. I also drove around the United States showing my cats (another story), and audio books kept me awake. ‘Read’ all the Harry Potter novels that way. I discovered that I loved especially mystery/thriller/crime fiction on audio. And that led to actually reading crime fiction.
These days, I am VERY critical of any ‘literary’ fiction I pick up. Maybe I’m getting cranky in my old age. Or maybe the popularity of book clubs and ‘Book Club Discussion Guides’ has created a market for B-grade literary fiction that the Oprahs and publishers and Amazons of the world throw at us and tell us is very high brow. I find so much of it labored, inelegant and pompous. Hemingway would certainly not approve of much of it, I feel. Funnily enough, I didn’t like Hemingway 30 years ago. Couldn’t stand him. Now I love his writing.
A couple of years ago, I trained myself to get back into reading every day. It didn’t take long, and now I’m right back into it. But I have less patience with books that irritate me, don’t grab me, or are just plain boring or not my style. I have no problem stopping at 30% and picking up something else. After all, it’s not my JOB anymore, I might as well like it!
Do you feel you ‘should’ be reading different material? Do your tastes change? Do you long to read more or less?