Rejuvenation and Goal-Setting

The pattern of frost-filigreed wisteria vines is so lovely. The winter holidays are such a great season for rest and rejuvenation – and our weather in the high desert of New Mexico has obliged with lots of snow and freezing temperatures. All the better to keep me cozied indoors and focusing on both relaxing and giving my mind the room to mull thoughts for the coming year. A big part of that is going to be reducing back log and lists. Come on over for more. 

The Top X [Genre] books Every Y Should Read

CRSqSFWVAAA8mALI loved these words so much, I just had to Word Swag them. Batya Ungar-Sargon messaged them to me about my book, UNDER CONTRACT. We met when she took my workshop on consent at the RT Convention and then she asked to use that material for this terrific article she wrote on romance and feminism.

My favorite bit? “Graceful in its fealty to genre.” It’s a distressingly far too widely held opinion that writing romance is easy. The genre is derided for its highly defined tropes and inevitable happy ending. It’s true that romance readers have definite expectations – but that means it’s more difficult to write, not easier. Telling a good story, the story you want to tell, while adhering to the tropes is a delicate dance. Thus, “graceful in its fealty to genre” is one of the best accolades ever.

“Incredibly written” is pretty nice, too.

I want to talk a bit today about the Top X lists. You know the ones I mean. “The Top 100 Best Books of the Century.” “The Top Ten Fantasy Books Every Woman Should Read.” Etc, etc.

They’re proliferating more than ever because of sites like Buzzfeed, Salon and Huffington Post, which thrive on numbered lists of all kinds. Lists get clicks. Numbered lists are one of the favored varieties of Clickbait out there right now.

Writers and readers are constantly encouraged to name their “Top Whatever” lists. Favorite book, favorite author, favorite book boyfriend. For writing guest posts and articles, making lists like this can be a fairly fast and easy way to go.

I, however, think they’re dangerous.

That’s what I said – and I don’t think I’m overstating. This is why.

To me, this is another exercise in the inevitable interview question posed to anyone who’s had a microphone thrust in their face: What book is on your beside table? (A phrasing I love because they’re not actually asking “What are you reading?” and – maybe this is just me – my bedside table is a kind of TBR pile purgatory, where books can languish for years, quietly gathering dust and sneering at my procrastination.) Equally inevitable, the person will respond with A Tale of Two Cities or some such. Seriously, I considered it a drinking game there for a while, how many celebrities, politicians and other interview-friendly folks cited reading A Tale of Two Cities.

Of course, maybe it’s that everyone *starts* the book, because we all feel we SHOULD read it, and then every last one of us ditches it in bedside table purgatory because the damn thing is so stiflingly dull. (Yes, I tried to read it. Stalled on page 121, marked with a 1992 bookmark. It’s back on the bookshelf, though.)

If they don’t say A Tale of Two Cities, then it’s Great Expectations or War and Peace or Moby Dick. Right? Because everyone wants to sound smart. No one is going to say Robin McKinley’s Shadows, which is the book currently languishing on my bedside table, or Molly O’Keefe’s Everything I Left Unsaid, which I’m currently devouring on the Kindle. At any rate, all of this is evidence of the ongoing conflict between what we think we should read and what we actually read.

These lists, then, tend to reinforce the “should read” side of things, which is to say, the surface, social version, rather than the reality. In fact, many of the lists include “should” in the title, creating an onus by their very existence. Worse, because people who compose the lists want to look smart and well-read, they all tend to include the same books. The ones everyone cites as being the ones to cite.

See how this cycle perpetuates?

Maybe saying this is dangerous IS putting it a tad strongly. But I do think it’s counterproductive, continues to elevate the same group of books – which creates homogeneity – and reinforces snobbery.

Read what you want to read!

25% For The Win

So, this is my To-Be-Read (affectionately known as the TBR) pile. Most of it. There is also a stack of books on my bedside table, with a few more in the drawers. This does not include the five pages worth of books on my Kindle.

The worst  part is, a lot of these books were in my TBR pile when we moved here 2 1/2 years ago.

You know how it is. You buy a book on a whim. Or you get it free at a conference. Or – the very worst – someone lends it to you, saying you must read it. And there they sit. Languishing. For Years.
You see where I’m going with this.
Yes, I’m thinking about the new year and what I want 2012 to be like. Now, yesterday on Word Whores, I said I’m not a fan of posting resolutions. I referred to previous rants on the topic, but a few people said they’d like to hear why. So, if you’ve heard this before, feel free to skip the next paragraph.
I think resolutions, like charity, should be kept private and anonymous. Otherwise you risk doing it only for ego, which is dangerous. See, the whole point of a resolution is to make a change in your own life, not to show off how neat you are to other people. Similarly, with charity, the point is to help someone else, not to dazzle everyone with your selflessness and generosity. If you make a resolution just to tell people your plan, then you run the risk that you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, which means it will never “stick.” Doing stuff to impress other people just doesn’t last. It’s a false reward, sweet tasting at first, but without nutrition.
That said, I am breaking my own rule today. (Self-aggrandizement is me! I laugh in the face of my distorted ego!) I’ve been feeling, not only the weight of my huge and moldering TBR pile, but that I really want to read more. I miss reading. Some of that energy goes into writing now, which is a deliberate choice. But a lot of it gets spun out elsewhere. I really want to reduce this pile of good intentions gone astray.
A huge part of the problem for me is that many of these books are ones I actually have started. I get a few pages in, don’t love it and put it down to try again. Then, when I try again, it’s been so long I have to back up to remember the story, I read a few pages, don’t love it and put it down to try again.
I know, right?
So, I developed a plan and bounced it off a few other inveterate readers on Twitter, especially with the woman behind the pig at Pearls Cast Before a McPig. She confessed to having many barely started books in her TBR pile, too. Slowly accreting.
This is the plan.
Because I feel wrong setting a book aside after only a few pages, I will commit to reading 25% of each book. That should give the slow-starters plenty of time to draw me in. Because there have been many books that I didn’t love at first, but that grew on me. After that first 25%, though, if I’m still not loving it, I can get rid of it with a clear conscience.
25% FTW!
I think this could totally work. Anyone else want to play?