Reading in a Terrible Year

I wrote this on New Year’s Day to get it out of my head, and then sat on it for a while, unsure if I wanted to publish it. I couldn’t found a way to talk about my reading year without talking about what’s been going on in my life, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But I’m practicing being open and vulnerable and hardly anyone reads this blog, so here goes.

I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, and this was the fifth? sixth? year of a depressive episode I had made sporadic attempts to get help with but couldn’t seem to shake. Then, in the fall, my husband moved out. It takes two to get a marriage in trouble. I knew mine was, and that my depression was a major contributor. But I’d had no idea he was at the point of ending it.

I’m grieving. But I also have anti-depressants that are working, a good therapist, and friends and family who love and support me. I’ve grown closer to many of them this year, something I wanted but couldn’t initiate in my depression. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by sadness, but sometimes I feel happier than I have in a long time. I’ll be OK. I’m OK now. No need to comment on this, really–just talk to me about books!

What did I read through these enormous changes and a pandemic?

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The Worst Best Man, by Mia Sosa

Writing up my February TBR Challenge review, I lamented that my romance TBR, mostly acquired a few years ago, is so white. Recently I’ve been trying a few recent, more diverse choices from the library to see if that might reignite my enjoyment romance reading.

It’s been a mixed bag, and that’s mostly about me and where I am personally rather than about the books. When I think about it, I struggle to be fully immersed or emotionally engaged in any book I read these days. And for romance, that might matter more to me than with other genres. When I first started romance reading, it felt transgressive (yes, I saw it as a guilty pleasure) and so much fun. I was hooked on the feelings. (Sorry). I don’t mean to suggest that genre romance offers no intellectual pleasures, but when I can’t get swept away by the story, I don’t find the reading very rewarding. All this is by way of context for my thoughts about Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. I did enjoy it. But maybe I tend to nit-pick more, or just have more questions that aren’t fair to load onto a single book, if I’m not in the right place to just say “Book, take me away!” These are thoughts I dashed off while my students were writing an in-class essay, so they aren’t fully formed.

Worst Best Man made me think about how reading a romance generally requires readers to extend some generosity to the book right at the start. The meet-cute and set-up are often exaggerated or implausible scenarios. There is something larger than life about these books, even when the setting is realistic and contemporary. Are you, the reader, willing to go with it to get the emotional payoff later? As I write this, I’m wondering about how much of our willingness to buy in comes from the writer’s skill, and how much from the reader’s mindset? I think it’s some of both. There needs to be reader-book chemistry—in a sense, every time we read we’re having a blind date with a book. Will we click? Why is it that some romances have me rolling my eyes, and others have me eagerly strapping in for the ride? I’m not sure I can say.

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Time to Work My Critical Muscles

I’ve been thinking lately about attention. Where do I put mine? Why do I have such a hard time focusing it these days? One reason this has been on my mind is that next Fall I’ll be teaching a literature a class again after several years of teaching only Academic Writing (my choice, long story). I’m ready for the change–indeed I requested it–but I also find myself thinking “But can I still read?” 

Of course I can, obviously! I read all the time. But it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve read with my full attention, read critically or analytical, practiced the habits of close reading that are part of what I work on with students. It’s a second year British Novel course in which we read mostly 19th century novels, and there’s definitely part of me wondering “Can I still read a book that long?” 

This is great, really, because I will likely have more understanding of and sympathy for what my students face in the course than ever before. But it’s also time to work those atrophied critical reading muscles, and I hope that will be impetus for giving more time and attention to blogging (no, this time I mean it) because writing helps me do that. I’m not planning to write coherent little essays on everything I read–let’s start small!–but I’ll try to write something, and to dig into the texts a bit more, at least some of the time, instead of review-type impressions. Just coming up with this plan has given me some ideas of things I want to write about. I missed that feeling! To start off, here are a few thoughts on Mathias Énard’s Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants. Continue reading

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TBR Challenge: Her Best Friend’s Wedding, by Abby Gaines

I like Wendy’s even more flexible prompts for the 2020 TBR Challenge. This month’s is “Friends” and I was tempted to read one of several books in my TBR with “Enemy” in the title. Just to be contrary. Instead I doubled down with a Harlequin Superromance by Abby Gaines, Her Best Friend’s Wedding, which is part of a series called “More than Friends.” I think I picked it up because I’d read and enjoyed an earlier Gaines book, Married by Mistake, when it was a Harlequin freebie. Overall, I enjoyed this one too, but it was an uneven reading experience. Here’s the good, and . . . well, the ugly:

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TBR Challenge: Cosmic Rendezvous by Robyn Amos

What a good start to the year! I read something for the January TBR Challenge, which Wendy decided to keep hosting (yay!), and thanks to a snow day I have time to write up my post on the due date. This month’s theme is “We love short shorts,” so I chose a category romance: Cosmic Rendezvous, by Robyn Amos, from Harlequin’s late lamented Kimani line. (I think I learned about this from an Olivia Waite newsletter).

Amos’ title might suggest a sci fi romance, but this is a contemporary enemies-to-lovers story about an engineer and an astronaut working on a NASA mission. Shelly London is a talented engineer who has designed the spacecraft for this mission (whether this is really possible at 30, I don’t know, but it’s the kind of fantasy element I’m willing to go with in a romance). Lincoln “Lightning” Ripley is a famous astronaut. Shelly, who has been trying to get accepted into the astronaut training program herself, thinks he doesn’t appreciate what he has or take it seriously. Linc doesn’t understand why Shelly’s so short with him. What woman can resist his charm? There’s a bit of a pride and prejudice vibe in their opening sparring, with Shelly prejudiced against Linc because of assumptions she makes due to his fame, and Linc too proud to explain some of the circumstances that make him seem he’s not taking the mission seriously.

I have a fairly low tolerance for the “enemies” part of enemies to lovers these days, if the battle between the protagonists is too hurtful or protracted. Luckily, this wasn’t. The boss tells Shelly and Linc to work together for the good of the mission, and they quickly learn to respect each other. And then, of course, more, because this is a romance, and one I enjoyed. Continue reading

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