When it comes to books, it’s been a year of changes. First of all, of course, this year I began blogging, and this has changed my reading life — my life, period — pretty radically. I used to keep a wimpy list of potential books to read that was about 10 books long and I hardly ever looked at it, and when I was in the store, I’d often have trouble finding something I wanted. No more, let me tell you. Now my list of books I’d like to read is something like 250 books long and growing fast. I’ve found dozens of blogs I read regularly, and I’ve learned so much about books and authors I’d never heard of before from them. I think about books and the publishing world differently now that I blog and read blogs.
And I read differently, knowing that I will write here about everything that I read. I’ve always felt that my reading should have some purpose; with my well-developed Puritan work ethic and sense of guilt, I can’t just read purely for pleasure very easily. Being an English teacher is one way of “doing something” with my reading, but I’ve discovered that blogging is another. My reading doesn’t stop with me; instead I write about the experience and people read me and sometimes write back. Something of my reading experience gets circulated back out into the world in a more direct and immediate fashion than it used to, and I like that a lot.
Blogging has meant that I’m now involved in conversations about books I never was before, and I’m part of books groups — online and in-person — that are new to me. I’ve made some great online blogging friends, and one of them, Emily, turns out to live near me, so we can be — what do you call them, in-person? traditional? regular? — friends too. I’m reading Proust because of blogging, and I’m reading more short stories, and I’m reading new books because of the Slaves of Golconda. As other people have said before, it’s like being in a very fun literature class, or like being part of a literary salon. It’s class without the grading and where I write all the “papers” effortlessly.
My reading habits have changed this year as well. I’m now reading poetry again, which I’m very happy about. I don’t read it very fast, but I do read it regularly. I’m reading multiple books at once, which means I feel able to read more challenging things — if I have only one book at a time, I’m much less likely to pick up something long and difficult because I don’t want to find myself stuck with it and bored. I can tackle something difficult for a while, and then put it down for my fun novel or nonfiction book. This means I’m not finding it difficult to read Proust. Rather than driving myself crazy trying to read it and it alone, I’m reading it along with a lot of other books that provide some variety.
What else … I found Book Mooch, which means I have whole shelves full of books strangers have mailed me, and I mail books out to strangers now and then. Half of the books on this year’s list I might not have read if it weren’t for blogging. I’ve taken to accumulating books at a frightening rate. I never used to do this; I generally bought books at the pace I read them, but no more.
I’ve developed some unexpected obsessions this past year — for books about books and reading, for example. I’ve read 4 of these books this year — by Jane Smiley, Alberto Manguel, Sara Nelson, and Nick Hornby — and I am looking forward to reading more. I had a brief but intense love affair with footnotes after reading The Mezzanine and Dracula (the editor’s footnotes were wonderful). And I’ve recently gotten excited about books on walking, with Rory Stewart’s book and now Footsteps, and with Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost on my shelves, and W.G. Sebald and Bruce Chatwin waiting for me. I also discovered the joys of reading diaries — Virginia Woolf’s and Frances Burney’s in particular.
All this feels like a lot in one year. It makes me wonder what next year will bring.