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An Embarrassment of Reading Riches

It is the age-old book lover’s lament: I will likely not live long enough to read all the things I want to read, so I’d rather not spend my time with another lazy journalist.

Two very full bookshelves (photo by Sara Habein)
Above my head, most of these I’ve read. That box with the ear on it is an issue of McSweeney’s.

Whenever some publication wants to pull out the trope, “Is [type of book] dead?” I am tempted to respond with a one-sentence email: Are you fucking kidding me?

Literature is not dead.
Poetry is not dead.
Memoir is not dead.
Print books are not dead.
Any sort of non-fiction subjects that people find interesting (even if it is a mere two people in this world) are not dead.

So shut up and learn how to report something that doesn’t prioritize click-bait over content because I’m trying to read things of personal value, and you’re really distracting.

Right now I have 90 unread books sitting on my shelves. I have 723 unread items in my Google Reader, and while, yes, some of those unread items are from cat photo-related tumblrs, the point is, my brain seems to be woefully insufficient at cramming in all the stories and information that I’d like to know. As soon as I make a dent in my to-read queue, more books will arrive, and I will happily and gratefully say Ooh… each time I open that box or padded envelope. I receive review copies regularly, yet Powell’s and Amazon and Hastings still get plenty of my money. As long as people are committed – no, driven – to write, books will keep stumbling into this world, quietly hoping that eyes will meet the page and connect.

Just as any music fan knows that popular Top 40-style pop is not the only music in this world, any reader who pays more than glancing attention to what’s out there knows that books have more going on than what “everyone” seems to read. And just as Top 40-style pop can be grating and baffling to some, just as many songs can be widely known for a reason – they are great songs.

See: Harry Potter, Gone Girl, Wild, etc.

I review books because I enjoy thinking about what makes a story work. Reading makes me a better writer, yes, but there is also something to be said about helping another reader decide if their time will be well spent with a particular book. If anyone’s paid any attention to my writing at all, they know that I am borderline evangelical when it comes to the things I love, but I also think there’s value in the less-than-positive review. While I understand why publications like The Believer don’t want to publish negative reviews, I don’t think it’s a practice that should be applied to everyone.

What I don’t enjoy are reviews that seem to say, Don’t like this because you won’t be cool if you do. Excuse me while I roll my eyes because it’s a sad day when someone bases their enjoyment on what others will think. Insecurity is common and unavoidable, but that does not mean it’s flattering. When I don’t like something, I have reasons why – individual reasons that I make an effort to articulate. Maybe I can’t relate, or maybe I’m bored, or maybe I’m distracted by unskilled writing. I never pick up a book expecting to dislike it; I want to be won over, and I don’t believe that’s too difficult of a task.

90 unread volumes of possibility. 90 chances to fall in love. 90 books that are a mere fraction of what is out there, a mere fraction of what could make me say, Wow. Yet I will keep on trying, keep on reading, and I will keep on writing. There will always be an audience, somewhere. You’re here, and I’m here – Let’s make an effort.

Unread Books and The Word Squirrel (photo by Sara Habein)

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the editor of Electric City Creative.

14 thoughts on “An Embarrassment of Reading Riches”

    1. I reread things occasionally, yes. Some of my all-time favorites. I reread Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby probably every other year. I like rereading the Ripley books from Patricia Highsmith, and at some point, I’d like to reread Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

  1. I have three bookshelves. One in in storage, and last time I packed the books fit into 14 boxes. My boyfriend bought me a Kobo hoping to stem the constant flow of books into the house, and while that has helped a little I really think that sometimes, I can’t help myself.

  2. I have more than 200 books on my to-read shelf on Goodreads, and that doesn’t include a lot of random books I downloaded cheap/free/from NetGalley or a lot of books I own that are in storage temporarily, or all the new things I keep discovering. I will never get through them all!

  3. I love this. I love books. Possibly one of the best worst things I ever did was move into an apartment across the street from a used book store. I love finding sources for good, honest book reviews (I am less in thrall with the NYT Review than I used to be…). Are there any particular websites or mags that have good and/or reliable reviews?

    1. The Rumpus and The Millions both have good reviews. And The Nervous Breakdown usually runs great author interviews that might make interested in their book.

      (Oh, and *coughcough* my own site, which is linked in the article.)

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