January is the traditional month of resolutions. It seems only fitting that someone would eventually come up with an anti-resolution. At the same time GoodReads is urging readers to set themselves a challenge for 2014, Rebecca Shinsky and Rita Meade are telling readers that not only is it okay to drop your to-read lists, it’s good for your mental health to do so. In the inaugural episode of Meade’s Dear Book Nerd podcast, Meade and her co-host assure listener Kyle that he will be much happier reading as he pleases in his finite reading time. Shinsky, writing a week later, gives the same assurance.
These two items, coupled with the fact that I have a co-worker who insists on only reading the “best”* in his remaining years and a second co-worker who reads the books I recommend to her in the order that I recommend them, got me to thinking about my own to-read list. For years, I haven’t thought of it as a list, as such. Rather, my list is a pool to draw from when I finish what I’m reading. I read what I’m in the mood now, and I’m much happier for it. I usually have an idea what I’m going to read next; what I’m going to read after that is entirely up in the air. Worrying about what you should be reading will take all the fun out of the thing. After all, we read what our teachers told us to in junior high, high school, and college, which is bound to kill the love of reading in most people if they don’t find their gateway book**.
The fact that I read whatever I’m in the mood for brings me to the second thing I wanted to write about. Every few months, I will unintentionally pair up two books that are weirdly meant to be read together. This time, it was Allegiant, by Veronica Roth***, and Hyde, by Daniel Levine. One is the young adult book of the day. The other is a dark retelling of a classic horror novella. They couldn’t be further from each other on the surface. Yet, both are explorations of the unsolvable psychological dilemma of nature versus nurture. More than that, they both take the opposite position. Allegiant proposes that genes are the root of character and behavior. Hyde argues that it’s all in the upbringing. As a librarian with access to too much data, I would say that the truth is somewhere in the middle. The pairing of the two books was a wonderful moment of serendipitous reading.
And now, to link the two things into something coherent: Don’t adhere to a strict to-read list. Read idiosyncratically and create opportunities for serendipity in your reading. If nothing else, it will give you wacky ideas for literary papers.
* Whatever that means. Stories can only be judged subjectively, after all.
** My term for the magical book that hooks someone on reading for the rest of their lives. The fact that some people never find this book is immeasurable sad to me.
*** I can’t write a review of this book because I would have to talk about the ending. And I can’t talk about the ending without spoiling it. So, there you go.