I know many avid readers, both in person and virtually. I’m an English professor, after all, with three degrees that center around English, literature, and writing. It is not surprising that most of my friends like to read, too. Frankly, a person who “lacks time to read” or dislikes reading loses my respect. Perhaps it is unfair of me, but this is one of my truths.
Among my pleasures in this too-brief life is not only to read, but to discuss what I’ve read. I started a reading group after I finished my BA, worried about losing the intellectual conversations I’d grown to love. We focused on reading classics, determined to fill our reading gaps. My mind stretched, my reading improved, my joy in books grew.
When I left New York for New Mexico, I was sad to give up my monthly reading group. Graduate school meant little time to organize a reading group, although I managed to do plenty of reading. Classroom discussions kept me from missing my New York group too much, and I learned what had been an elusive skill for me: reading like a writer.*
This skill changed my life. It meant that I could dig into any text like a mechanic into the engine of a vintage car. I could tinker and analyze and map and chart and learn.
I don’t turn off this skill. I relish it. It informs all of my reading, even my blog and newspaper reading.
Two years ago, missing graduate school discussions and my New York book group, I started a new group. We’ve read a variety of books, mostly novels, and had some fun conversations. Recently, a member of my club said that I like to “rip books apart,” and while I’m not sure how to take that comment, I do go to our meetings with the intention of tinkering with the book, of taking a wrench to it, seeing how it works, and why it does or does not work well. I am critical in my reading, but I am critical because I want to write better; I want to know how to help others write better. I am compelled to articulate my reactions to a book.
It occurred to me that while I read for entertainment, that is not my primary reason to read. I enjoy good stories, whether comic or tragic, but I crave beautiful writing. I want to linger in a sentence, wonder at a word choice. I want characters to gut me with the decisions they must make. I want to learn how to be a better human, more human, even. I want to be haunted by a book’s ideas. Perhaps that is simply what we readers consider entertainment?
So why has all of this been on my mind today? Well, for one thing, my club (The Tobacco Valley Inklings, no less) selected our 2012 books last week, and I’m really excited about the list. For another thing, last night I completed our January book, and I decided I should bring book reviews back to the blog. It’s been a long time since I’ve shared my reviews here, and I enjoy comments with your thoughts on a book or telling me what you’re reading.
There you have it. I’m committing to blog book reviews again, and I can’t wait to write about the first book I finished in 2012. This leads me to the question: what do you like in a book review?
*I learned this in a class with Dan Mueller about central image while reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Francine Prose’s book is a good substitute for such a class.