shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


searching for the right words

As I'm sure you've seen elsewhere, Newsday's Laurie Muchnik debuted a new column over the weekend in which she'll try and consider more books and reader-focused litnews, more candidly. The column is fittingly called "Finding the Next Book" and she talks about how she decides which book to read next. I imagine every reader does this in much the same way(s) but with major personal differences. There's never any shortage of what to read, we could all agree on that, but then why do I so often find myself searching? Because the right book at the right time is what I want as a reader and that is not always easy to find.

One of my non-resolution resolves is to actually track what I read this year. I'm using Ayelet Waldman's booklog as a template, a simple list with the book title and author and a sentence or two of reaction. (I may or may not stick this up online at some point in the future.) I imagine this will teach me more than I currently know about how I choose the books I actually end up reading. I'm also going to note short stories read in magazines or journals so long as that remains feasible to keep up with.

Many, many of the people linked to the right have influenced my reading choices -- or at least potential choices -- in the past year or two. Often I'll take books out of the library on blog recommendations or the recommendations of other writers. I take out way more books than I actually read, but I've certainly read many things I might not have otherwise just from examining the book, testing the first page, etc. I also have very generous friends and we're all pretty knowledgeable about where our tastes overlap, so we send each other books and swap recs (or the flipside, swap "avoids"). Then there's the danger of having too many writers as friends -- just trying to keep up with their books and stories isn't easy... although I must admit that I feel extremely lucky that it's a pleasurable enterprise, as I'm blessed with across-the-board fantastic writers as friends. (I'll just stay over in the corner pecking out my YAs for now, thanks.) I rarely turn to books that are already shelved, which is why I keep the mammoth stacks around of books I actually intend to read, only eventually giving up and shelving them.

Sometimes a sure thing turns out not to be. I think maybe I shouldn't be reading Kate Atkinson's Case Histories right now. But I've heard such good things, I'm continuing on. It's not that I don't appreciate the lovely writing or enjoy the story, but more that I'm not engaging with it in the way I want to. Yet. Maybe I'm just not far enough in. The last book this happened with was The Egyptologist (which I eventually gave up on, not making it to the much-raved-about ending that was supposed to justify the whole thing). I'm still hopeful the light will click on and I'll stay up too late to read the next chapter.

So, just quickly, the books on the log so far and how I chose them (not all of them are actually completed yet, but it's early in this project and so I've ambitiously included them anyway). You'll notice I've redacted the titles of the research books; this is because that would give away a big chunk of what I'm working on at the moment and I'm not really ready to talk about it yet. Here goes:

1. Case Histories – Kate Atkinson: Mostly chose this just from buzz, reviews and mentions on blogs, coming at a time when I've resolved to read more crime fiction. Also, one of the few books I've actually bought lately... well, I steered Christopher to it for one of my Christmas gifts. Same difference. The writing actually reminds me of my favorite writer in the world's -- Karen Joy Fowler's -- in the wonderful deadpan details and lines full of sly humor. (Maybe that's why I'm not engaging, because it reminds me of Karen and yet is NOT by Karen!)

2.Unnamed Research Book One - This particular book is the text of an old play which plays a small but key role in and also influenced the telling of the history around the major event in the book I'm working on. I had to interlibrary loan it.

3. “From Above,” Robert Reed – Feb. F & SF: This was a short story and I chose it because the F&SF was nearby and it was by Robert Reed.

4. Unnamed Research Book Two: Another research book. The only book I could find that dealt with the modern geography of the place I'm writing about.

5. Firebirds – edited by Sharyn November: I've been meaning to read this for ages and am only now getting around to it. Kelly and Gavin said in the introduction to YBFH that this was the standout fantasy anthology of 2003. I think they were right.

6. All in the Dances – Terry Teachout: Well, obvs, I should have read this one already too. Only complaint: brief life is too brief! I keep trying to read sloowwwer to stretch it out. I'm going to make C read this one too, as he also loves ballet. I chose this one because Terry wrote it, yes, but also it's exactly the kind of ballet book I wanted to read. Accessible but rich.

7. The Girl Who Married a Lion (and other tales from Africa) – Alexander McCall Smith: This one I chose based on a review in -- I believe -- Entertainment Weekly, raving, and then I saw it at the library and so, poof! Reading it. Lovely little book. Also too brief.

8. The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History: Another steered Christmas present, although this one I shamefully bought for myself under the guise of giving it to Christopher. The packaging sold me. Completely an impulse buy, but one that plays into my love of photographs and stories behind museum collections and curiosities.

And that's really it for now. I'm too lazy to link, so google, you lazy bastards, if you need to know more about any of the titles above!

I'd be interested in how you choose books, if anyone wants to respond (either here or on their own site or via email).

I know you're not really lazy bastards.

(Also: 562 words later! And 543 on the other side of the office!)


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