It’s the time of year to make resolutions. 2009 was the year I made a conscious decision that I would stop reading books I wasn’t enjoying, because of the opportunity cost of then not being able to read books I would enjoy more.
Despite this, I still ended up persevering through books I shouldn’t have, and my to-be-read list only grew while I merrily ignored it in favour of picking up new and interesting-sounding titles.
So this coming year, 2010, I’m going to be more systematic and disciplined with my reading. Here’s how.
1. I will sort my reading list out.
My reading list is very, very long, and very, very unsorted. If I hear about a title that either I think I might like, or that other people are raving about, I’ll dump it on the list…and there it will sit, for, in some cases, years until I finally get around to looking for it in a bookstore or library…and for a good proportion of these titles, I end up wondering what it was doing on my list in the first place.
So, my resolutions in this area are:
1a. I will research a title before I add it to the list, through reviews and sample reads. I will not add it to my transportable list (Next Read app, for iPhone) until I’m sure I want it. AND I will make sure I read the full available sample, not the first three paragraphs.
1b. I will note where the recommendation came from and/or why I added to my list, to better track my sources and their success rate…as well as my own tastes.
1c. I will not add books that I feel I ‘should’ read, only ones that I am genuinely interested in.
1d. For the titles currently on the list, I will research one or two daily until they are all moved out of the unsorted list into the ‘read’ list or the ‘low priority’ list (books I don’t have the heart to delete entirely…).
2. I will admit that strong writing is not enough
It really does shame me to admit that a very well-written fiction book just doesn’t do it for me if the characters and storyline aren’t also good. This goes back to reading books I think I ‘should’ read, books the critics rave about, books my genre-deploring friend pushes on me (and then later admits she also didn’t like but just wanted to see what I thought…what the hell, lady? If you want to convert me to the Booker prize-winners, that’s not the right method), books that are indeed true epitomes of the craft of writing and yet have settings, plots (or lack thereof) and characters that just don’t appeal to me.
I would rather read decent writing with a great plot and fantastic characters and sparkling dialogue than outstanding writing without any other attraction for me. (I won’t read mediocre writing no matter how good the plot.)
3. I will seek out sources for book recommendations that match my tastes
At the moment, I find books for my reading list with glorious abandon; mostly, I stumble upon discussions online where various books are being raved about. Apparently, if a complete stranger loved a book, I will too, so I chuck it on the list. This method is not only obviously hit-and-miss, but also means I will miss out the books that don’t bubble to the top of the collective online reading consciousness.
This will be hard; I can’t do it based on awards or literary critics, because though most of the time I can’t stand the books that win the big literary or even genre prizes, sometimes I love them. Sometimes I don’t like the books that are bestsellers (Harry Potter, Twilight) but sometimes I do.
My best bet is other readers like me, but there’s so many review sites (and books to read!) that it’s difficult to pinpoint who to use; a discussion group is better than a single review site. I will start by going back to the chicklitforums, who first put me onto the wonderful Connie Willis and who read widely, not just Chicklit the genre (they are chicks that read lit, not just Chicklit readers, follow me?).
It will develop as I track my sources and success rates in my reading list. In the meantime, I will make use of preference technologies such as Amazon’s ‘Other Customers Also Bought…’ and Good Reads.
4. If needed, I will stop reading the book at page 50, no matter what.
As I said at the start, I ended up reading quite a few books that I should have just given up on. Sometimes this was because I was on holiday and was stuck with the book (always pack an extra…); sometimes I had paid full-price for it and felt like I needed to get my money’s worth (books generally cost over $20 in Australia; thank goodness for ebooks, libraries, and Malaysian paperback prices); sometimes the book was a gift and I felt I should finish it for the sake of the giver. But the lost time is worse than the wasted money or effort.
And sometimes, the book was pretty close to being good enough to keep reading…but not quite. These are the hardest ones. However, on no occasion this year where I gave an iffy book the benefit of the doubt at page 50 was I relieved that I had kept reading it.
So: 4a. I will trust myself and my tastes – if I’m doubtful at page 50, I will move on. My failsafe question at 50: if any of these characters die, would I care? If not, abandon book.
5. I will pay attention to authors I have already discovered
I’m appalling for really enjoying a book and then failing to look up what else the author has done. This is just silly. I will read my favourites’ backlists and track their new releases.
6. I will give myself permission to still make impulse buys occasionally
All my favourite books over the last few years have been discovered entirely at random. This is of course because I have had no other method but near-random choice, but still – if I had been following my new method, these books would not have come to my attention; my literary boyfriend Michael Chabon would not have come to my attention.
So despite my list, which I will clean up and I will use and I will make an effort to populate only with books I am fairly certain I will enjoy, I cannot deny myself the great joy of the reader, that glow that comes from finding a gem in an author and book you’ve never even heard of.
Therefore, I will allow myself to browse bookstores and libraries and secondhand sales…but I will make sure I read at least 10 pages right there before purchase/check-out: if I read sample pages before I put a book on my list, I have to read sample pages before I skip a book over the list and onto the pile.
With these methods, I vow to get my reading list under control and to increase my reading success rate in 2010. Fellow readers, are you feeling the time (or economic) pressure? Are you making changes to your reading habits this year?