Between my One of Us book hangover and the first week of the semester, I did not read much this week. It took me all week to read a category romance (for the TBR Challenge, so I won’t talk about it yet). But I hope I’ll have more time next week, especially since I just picked up Paul Beatty’s The Sellout from the library.
But until I have a good book to talk about, here a few things I’ve been reading this week:
as a new slate of forthcoming books emerges before us, it may be tempting to announce publicly, and perhaps at length, that you will be personally doing your part to counter the very real, very bad hegemony enshrined in the literary marketplace by reading Only Women or Only People of Color or Only People Who Are Not White Straight Cis Men in 2016. That’s a great idea! I have one additional suggestion: shut up.
Essentially, Tolentino argues that people talk too much about themselves and their diverse reading goals and how wonderful they are for having those goals, and not enough about the diverse books they are reading.
I found this piece provocative, since I have written some posts on my diverse reading goals. But I think–I hope–I have written more on the results of that reading, and not always in ways that mark those books as different in some way, as “special” or “educational.” I think talking about personal goals is a bit different on a small personal blog, where much of my discussion about books includes my personal response. On a big platform, like The Huffington Post (or, for that matter, Jezebel), someone might write a click-worthy column on “My Year of Reading/Not-Reading X,” but never be invited back to talk in detail about the books read during that year, meaning the focus remains on the (often white) reader. I hope Tolentino made me more mindful of this, though of course these paragraphs are all about me and not books.
Thanks to Teresa, I added the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day to my feed reader. I haven’t read them all, but I have enjoyed several. And I listened to a New Yorker poetry podcast I loved, Major Jackson reading and talking about Derek Walcott’s “In Italy” (which you can read at the link). Hearing the way poets talk about what they admire in a poem helps me appreciate them more. There’s a nice variety in their comments, too–some are more academic/analytical, some talk about how a poet influenced or inspired or touched them. I find I can multi-task while they talk about the poem, but when they’re reading it I have to stop and listen carefully. That in itself is a gift.
I listened to a couple of “Books we’re excited for in 2016!!!” podcasts and went “nope, nope, meh” most of the way through. It made me realize how strong my preference for realism in fiction is–lots of these blurbs suggested high concept, post-apocalyptic, or otherwise “weird” books, often with a fantasy/speculative element. I don’t dislike fantasy, but I prefer it, too, to use the techniques of realist narrative, and I like to be clear going in that I’m reading fantasy, rather than stumbling into a genre-bending hybrid. I guess I prefer my speculative fiction as genre fiction, rather than in more literary forms. So I guess I’ve figured out how to stretch myself as a reader! Because a lot of current publishing trends are things I’d normally label Not For Me.
Finally, I went into a bookstore today and saw two things I really wanted (a gorgeous Picador edition of Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn and Dodie Smith’s A Tale of Two Families). But I stuck to my resolution and walked out with no books. Once I realized how early Easter is this year, and that Lent starts February 10, I figured I might as well stick to TBR-only reading until April. (With exceptions for library books already on hold and books to meet my diverse reading goals if needed). That is going to be a challenge. Probably I should stay out of bookstores.