A Couple Pros of Reading Nonfiction

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. That sort of vaguely bothers me–I guess I always wanted to be like Rory Gilmore, one of those people who devours all books because I love them so much. (I know I’m not the only one. I’ve read somewhere about a Rory Gilmore book challenge.) But in reality, I like very specific genres, and nonfiction isn’t one of them.

Or, as I should say: most nonfiction isn’t on my list. In recent years, however, I’ve been challenging myself to read a little more widely. And although I don’t expect to ever like nonfiction as much as I like fiction (and particularly my favorite genres), it has some definite pros. A couple of the big ones, for me:

  • Learning something.
  • Depending on what kind of nonfiction you read, it can be a nice reprieve from the frenetic pace of some fiction books. I don’t tend to read harrowing nonfiction–in general, I want books to be vacations/escapes–so that may be part of why it’s easy to take these books slowly.

Anyway, that’s all I have for you today. There’s still a great deal to do, and my brain isn’t really in the right frame to string together a long, coherent post. But before I go back to my to-do list: I hope that Monday is treating you all well, and that you have a splendid week!

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More Happy Things (Book-Themed)

I’m trekking through a rather long book now, and given that I also have a lot of other things to do, it’s easy for the bookish things to become another item on the checklist, a chore rather than a vacation. So here are some things that make me happy, as I’m reading:

  • Getting to the end of a chapter/section. Especially if a novel is broken up into separate “books”–getting to the end of one of these always feels good.
  • Tallying my progress through the book by fractions or percentages. I know this is kind of geeky, but I like telling myself, “You’re 25% of the way through! You’re 50% of the way through! You’re more than 50% of the way through!”
  • The comfort of familiar characters and a familiar world can be very nice, in those interim stretches of the book when I’m not particularly worried about anyone. I know it can’t last, because books need drama and everything, but it’s nice to have those moments when no one is in danger.

I find it kind of funny that so much of my focus is on “getting through” a book, since once I’m done, I’m often rather at a loss. “I was enjoying that book. What can I read now that is exactly like that book? Hm… I mean, this new book looks ok, but it sounds a little too like the other book.” This is the kind of unreasonable thought process I go through.

Anyway–busy busy, so I’m going to get back to work. And reading, as a break in between work things. I will not even put it on my to-do list, to further emphasize that it is not meant to be a chore. I hope you’re all having a wonderful Monday, as ever, and that you have many good books to read!

Opening My Heart to Books (and Cats)

Ok, that title sounds really melodramatic, but I’m going to try to explain what I mean. First, though, some background: a couple weeks ago, as some of you may know, my mom’s cat passed away. That was obviously far harder for her than it was for me. But that cat was still part of my family for a long time. And also, losing him called back a lot of the emotions I had when I lost my own cat, about two and a half years ago.

I’m not going to go into detail about that here. Not now, and maybe not ever. In short: he was my cat for 16 years, and I loved him, and failed him, and missed him terribly, and now, two and half years later, even if the edge is off those feelings (for the most part), they’re still there. I’m not mentioning this because I need comfort, or anything. I just feel like there should be some context for this statement, made around that time, in my journal:

“[Book title, which I’m not going to name here, because it’s not fair to an enjoyable book] is not big or encompassing enough to fill the sad empty place in my heart. But I’m not looking for that right now. I’m looking for fun, easy, quick reads with happy endings, I guess. I chose [this book] because of that–because my mind can’t latch onto too much right now.” (For Future Emi: that’s on July 30th, in the plain brown notebook, because I know you’re going to care about that. Moving on.)

I’m not an expert on grief, but I think that was a reasonable reaction at the time. My heart was just so badly bruised, which sounds crazy to anyone who’s never had a cat, but it was. And it got more badly bruised as the year went on. (Suffice to say that losing my cat wasn’t the last bad thing that happened that year.)

Somewhere in between all of that, and picking up my own writing projects again (which typically don’t leave a lot of brain space for other people’s worlds), I suspect that keeping a certain distance from books got to be habit. Not to say I haven’t read any good books since my cat’s death–I have. And certainly, they haven’t all been “fun, easy, quick reads with happy endings.” But with apathy, depression, and what I now recognize as the fallout of some serious grief still dogging my mind after that year, I feel like my book screening process became a question of how much energy each book would demand of me. How much it would require of my mind and heart. Because I didn’t have that much to give, so I had to be careful with what I did have.

This is all subjective, of course–just the impression I have right now, looking back. The thing is, though, I’ve been slowly coming out of that. And I’m starting to wonder: at what point should I look for a book that’s going to really grab hold of my heart again? Should I look for it? Come to think of it, did I look for that before, or did I just not try to avoid it?

Either way, I think I need to stop being afraid to love books. Because that’s one of the reasons–maybe the reason, as basic as it is–that I’ve always been a reader. I love stories. And if I stay away from books I think I’ll love, then I can’t be surprised when this happens:

Reading Slump

From the post I wrote when… well, the title is pretty self-explanatory: “I’m back!”

Anyway, I’ll get there, I think. I hope. I want to hope? I’m still rather wary, it seems, of getting my heart broken again, by anything. But I think I’m recovering, too. It’s taken a lot of prayer. (I know I don’t talk about my faith a lot here, but I haven’t made this journey without God, and I shouldn’t and couldn’t pretend that I did, because that’s taking a lot more credit than I actually deserve.) It’s also taken time, of course. And it took, in some part, the persistent purring and meowing of a cat who didn’t even belong to me, but who helped mend my heart in ways I didn’t completely understand until he was gone.

I miss him, of course. His death has been a rainy spell on the road. But the good he did seems to be sticking even through that. I may be able, now, to care about books–and even possibly cats–the way I did before. Almost. Getting there. Starting to be ready to get there. To want to get there.

Someday, who knows, maybe I’ll actually blog about some of this in detail. I don’t know if I should. But I hope this post helped someone out there. It does get better on the other side. That’s always been my experience. And it still is. It’s ok if it doesn’t happen right away. It’s even ok if it takes a very long time. Healing can be like that. But it does get better. You start to care again. You start to feel.

So for now, I wish you all some joy and strength, peace, energy, a purring cat if you want one, a good book, and as always, a happy Monday. And thank you, as ever, for putting up with my ramblings. This blog continues to be helpful for me. And it’s probably largely because of how supportive everyone who’s commented has been that I feel like I can post something like this. Thank you all again, and hopefully, I’ll see you all next week with something a little lighter!

Reading vs. Rereading

*Note: There is always the possibility that you have some incredible spoiler sense, but I have tried to keep this spoiler-free.

A few years ago, I read Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, basically because I like fairy tale retellings. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my stand-out book of the year or anything. (Although, to be fair, that was the same year I read The Hunger Games, so there was some pretty stiff competition.) I kept up with the series more or less as the books were released, not bothering to reread, until Winter, when suddenly… this wasn’t working.

I don’t blame Winter for that–honestly, considering that I’ve been reading this series one book at a time over a period of years, I’m surprised that I managed to go so long without rereading, and without (to my recollection) feeling lost during each new installment. Hats off to Marissa Meyer for that.

But now, finally, I set out to reread the series. And I discovered that this time, I liked–not just appreciated, or understood, butĀ likedCinder more than I had the first time through. The characters, the setting, the structure–it connected in a way that it hadn’t, at least as far as I can remember, on that first read. It was all comforting and familiar and fun.

I’m sure people have said this before, or similar things (Nabokov’s quote comes to mind), but it makes me think that maybe some books are meant to be reread more than they’re meant to be read. Sort of like wine aging in a cellar (that’s a wine thing, right?), or (possibly?) the second brewing of some teas: it’s not the first read you’re really after. That’s not the ultimate, top-notch vintage of this particular book. It’s the second, or third, or whatever read.

Or maybe it’s similar to how sometimes, life circumstances can make a first read powerful: events completely outside an author’s control can nevertheless have a huge impact on how much that book hits home. That can happen with a reread, too. And while theoretically we should know it’s coming, since by definition this is our second/third/whatever time through the book, we can still be surprised, because we really don’t know what kind of chemical reaction will happen when life and book meet until we start reading.

For me, on this reread, I think it’s a combination of the two. Now if only I can get myself to reread a little faster, because as it turns out, enjoying a reread doesn’t make me devour a book at any great speed. The urgency is decidedly gone. It’s a much more leisurely kind of fun.

That could be a whole other post. But since this post has already gone on way longer than it should’ve (I’m sorry, injured hand!), I’ll wish you all a happy Monday, and happy reading! Or rereading, as the case may be.

Autumn/Winter Reading

I don’t know if it’s always happened. But lately, it seems like around this time of year, when the days start getting shorter and colder, something wakes up in my brain. And what that something says is, “It’s time for fairy tales.”

Maybe not literally fairy tales. But something with some old-fashioned magic in it. Epic fantasy. Old-school classics (those are magical, too, in their ways). Dystopian, even. Something familiar, but new; something safe and warm and cozy–maybe–but also an adventure.

I have a feeling that this has a lot to do with when the Lord of the Rings movies came out. Looking forward to those movies was, I think, a pretty big part of my holiday season. Part of it may also be that those genres are like coming home–back to my reading roots. (Or to new genres that have become favorites.) After all, the holidays are a time to head back home, for many people–maybe this is one way I do that.

I don’t know. But Thanksgiving is upon us, and I’m rereading Divergent, and thinking frequently about how nice it would be to start on the fifth book of the Harry Potter series. And though I can’t prove that it is, it feels like part of the season.

Along with: enjoying hot drinks, warm blankets, premature Christmas merchandise, heaters, and other things that come with the holidays. This really is one of my favorite times of the year. I hope you’re all enjoying it as well! And for those of you who are in the U.S.: happy early Thanksgiving! Hopefully it’s not too hectic.

For all the NaNoWriMo writers: one week to go! Good luck! (And why are you reading this? Get back to writing!)(No, but seriously, it’s ok to take breaks. Remember to eat. And sleep. Got to keep going strong for those last few thousand words.)

Long Chapters

I’m not the fastest reader. But lately I’ve noticed that this gets even worse when I’m dealing with a book full of long chapters.

Long Chapters 1st Half

It’s a little better if there are breaks within the chapter, natural places to stop. But if thereĀ aren’t any breaks, the chapter represents a huge time commitment. I could stop partway through, but I hate the feeling that gives me–all vague and disconnected, not completely sure whether I’ve read a paragraph or not. So the chapter ends up getting put aside. Next thing I know, it’s two months later, and I still haven’t finished the book.

I exaggerate, but–

Long Chapters 2nd HalfOk, maybe I’m not exaggerating. What makes no sense to me is that I may end up reading the *same number of pages* in a book full of short chapters, but because they’re all short, the famous “just one more” scenario strikes, and I munch them up like snack-sized candies.

I feel like it wasn’t always this way–like when I first read the Harry Potter series (*cough* or at least the first four books), it was much easier to sit down and read for long periods of time, chapter length notwithstanding. Maybe I’m getting more impatient as I get older. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have those long stretches of time for reading anymore. Maybe it’s part of a broader cultural shift. (Not so much in book length as in attention span–I’m used to getting things faster, now.)

But really, this is all by way of saying that I haven’t finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yet. I will, probably by the end of the week. I just wish that the chapters were shorter.

It has nothing to do with what the end of the book represents. Nothing at all. Or with that one thing at the end. Or the other thing. Things that happen. Or, if you haven’t read the book, things that don’t happen, maybe, at all.

Ahem. Anyway. On with the reading.

I’m back!

Reading Slump

This is what being (really) depressed is like for me, it turns out. Not wanting to read. I needed to take some time away from the online world, so I did. I hope I’m coming out of it now. I’m mostly enjoying reading again, anyway, so that’s good. Going to try for regular posts on Mondays at least, maybe once more during the week if I’m feeling up to it/enthusiastic about something.

In the meantime: I’m rereading the Harry Potter series. And I say “rereading” generously, because… just because. On an unrelated note, how’s the fifth book? Would you describe it as dark, adventurous, sad, or some other adjective? Just as a completely random question, because I totally know exactly what happens in that book. Totally.

Skimming Ahead

I used to be very adamantly “no spoilers.” At suspenseful moments, I would read with a straight edge to keep my eyes from jumping ahead. And as for reading the last page of a book first…

Past Me

In the past few years, though, something has changed. It started innocently enough, with quick skims ahead to find out when I would next see a favorite character. But it didn’t stop there. Now I’ll often be reading along more or less in order when suddenly…

Slam

Something horrible happens. My favorite character dies or is grievously hurt. A fundamental relationship is poisoned, maimed, or (perhaps only seemingly) shattered. And I can’t cope.

No no noToo traumatized to read, I put the book down and try to focus on other things. But I can’t. I’m too jittery. My thoughts keep spiraling around the awful thing that just happened.

DistractedBook Call

Finally I cave and return to the book. But I’m almost as much of a mess as the characters. I can’t concentrate on the words in front of me.Distracted ReadingSo I skim ahead. Just a little. Just to make sure things are going to be okay.

Unfortunately for my anxiety, that’s not the way plot usually works.

Not Better compare

That’s right. Sometimes things get worse.

Before I know it, I’m skimming ahead another chapter, and another, searching for that “things will be okay” moment, until…

What, you’ve never had a book laugh at you?

I used to feel guilty (well, guiltier) about skimming ahead. Then I blamed the books. Some stories, I noted, would put me straight into “no spoilers” mode; I wanted to experience things in real (reading) time. That seemed like a mark of authorial competency. And maybe it is. But you could also argue that a really good book will hold your attention even if you know how it’s going to end. After all, we do enjoy rereads and retellings.

Maybe it’s less about the quality of the book than what I want out of the reading experience. There seem to be two main ways that I enjoy the plots of books. One is suspense-based: what will happen next? The other is method-based: how will it happen?

Skimming doesn’t answer the second question, at least not in all its details, so there are still things to discover as I keep reading. What skimming does provide is some measure of comfort–either reassurance, or a chance to process and recover and maybe mourn (some books… man). And sometimes that’s what I need. Sometimes suspense doesn’t help me enjoy reading; it’s just stressful.

I’m not writing off the exhilaration of an unspoiled first read. In fact, it’s possible that one of the reasons I like skimming is that it doesn’t make me choose; it gives me that adrenaline rush in a more condensed, manageable form, followed by a slightly steadier reread.

While there is evidence that spoilers help people enjoy stories more, personally, I think it’s like tea. Sometimes I want my tea piping hot and comforting; I want to wrap my fingers around the mug and breathe in the fragrance before each sip. Other times, I want something bracing, that wreaks havoc with my pulse and makes me so dizzy I can hardly turn a page…

Maybe it isn’t like tea. But you get the point. Both approaches have advantages; it just depends on what you’re after. It does help if you know what you want, though. For example, if all I care about is finding out what happens, I shouldn’t skim; it will turn the full read into a trudge. (And I hate leaving books unfinished, so I will feel obligated to trudge.) If I’m equally interested in filling in the spaces between events, skimming is comparatively safe.

Bottom line: however you read, you’re reading. And you’re enjoying it. So don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t the way you’re “supposed” to read.

Especially because if you really engage with books, they’ll do the beating up for you.

Reading029