Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Even when you hate a book you learn something

This summer, in my post-tenure euphoria, I have dedicated myself to expanding my reading horizons: meeting new authors, sampling new genres, and, most gratifying, making a few new friends along the way. One of the ways I have pushed my boundaries is by joining some reading challenges, including the voluminous Summer 2010 Reading Challenge at Goodreads. I figured reading the reviews of favorite books was a great way to expand my own TBR list.

This is how I first encountered the term “cozy murder.” Certainly, I read some Miss Marple books as a kid, and I watched Jessica Fletcher solve the murders of the Cabot Cove natives, who were slaughtered at a seemingly higher rate than Maine’s summer mosquito population. But I didn’t know there was A) a name for this kind of light mystery, and B) a proliferation of series in this “by women, for women mayhem” vein. My feminist sensibilities were intrigued, and I do love a good mystery now and then, so I tracked down one of the most ballyhooed series – the Hannah Swensen mysteries by Joanne Fluke – and got busy with The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

But this post is not a rant about a poorly conceptualized and overly written beach book. (My alter-ego, Acerbi-Col, might have to share this sentence about the cat: "Moishe's favorite activities when she was gone were eating and napping." Really? Do I need to know this? Now if Moishe played the concertina, that would be worth mentioning. But napping? A cat? You get the idea.) Instead, today’s post is about accepting that there are some roads you just haven’t taken, and aren’t going to take. Some groups you can never be part of. Some jokes you are never going to get. And that’s actually okay with me, finally.

Is that a leap from forcing myself to read one (admittedly, well-loved) book from a whole genre? I guess so. My first reaction after finishing The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder was this: “What am I not getting?” If thousands of people like this kind of thing, why can’t I enjoy it? But as I mulled it over, my reaction quickly evolved to this: “What do I need from reading that this book didn’t provide?” And that’s a much better question. Because there’s a difference between testing boundaries and wasting time. And the things I’m looking for – a deeper understanding of culture and family and womanhood and people’s inner struggles to do the decent thing in a wicked world – just can’t be found in some parts of the book publishing world.

Net result? Time to cull the TBR list. I’ll build it up again carefully, reading reviews and thinking about my objectives for reading – and not be influenced by the questionable wisdom of crowds. And no more reading a book just to fit it into a challenge. Life’s too short, and there are a lot of great authors out there with new takes on the age-old problems of living in a complex society. It’s not like comedy is off the list, or even absurdity. I just want my time to be well spent.


  1. I went through that same exact stage a while back. I just realized I wanted more out of what I was reading considering the number of books I own. I think this happens to everyone at least once!

  2. "questionable wisdom of the crowds"~ LOVE that! This post makes me wish we lived closer, knew each other really, because I feel we could be the dearest of friends. I nodded my head at everything you said, (Really, did we need to know about the cat napping? Hilarious!).

    It reminds me of my friend and neighbor who said to me, "Meredith. When were the masses ever right? The masses crucified Christ, remember."

    Love, Bellezza (aka as Meredith :)

  3. Now, you know I love mysteries, so, in defense of the cozy: I've tried to read Joanna Fluke twice and gave up both times. There are far better traditional mystery series.

    However, I'm also always saying "life's too short to read bad books," so I support your decision. :D

  4. Thanks, everyone! I appreciate the support. Belleza, I couldn't agree with you more, that's why I love reading your blog. And Karen, I'm reading How Mysterious for better mystery ideas!

  5. Great post. Yeah. There are some things I know I'm never going to read-Tolkein for example, or most scifi, or most chick lit, etc. You have to pick what you like and read what you enjoy, and not feel pressured to read something just because "everyone else is". There's a difference between being open minded and reading something that's a bad fit.


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col