Since this past Sunday, I have been spending all my free time in the former Warsaw Pact—via books, of course. This is partly Anna Funder’s fault (I read Stasiland on Sunday) and partly the fault of my curious obsession with the failed experiment of communism. Since this past Sunday, I have watched Der Tunnel and Good Bye, Lenin! and gotten halfway through Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park. I still have Das Leben der Anderen to watch. I have a wicked urge to re-read Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, as well.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been on a communism kick. Something about idealism gone terribly wrong appeals to me. My mini-streak is going to have to end soon; I have too many other things to read. But the experience has gotten me to thinking about reading jags.
Now that I review books for NetGalley and Edelweiss and my readership has grown over the last few years, I feel an obligation to read even more widely. If I notice that I’m reading several works of historical fiction in a row, I’ll deliberately switch to another genre. If I decide that I like an author enough to try and read their entire oeuvre, I’ll space the books out over months or years so that the content on my blog maintains a nice variety.
I don’t miss my old reading kicks as much as I thought I would. The problem with a streak is that it so often turns into a rut. I remember reading nothing by mysteries in my late teens and early twenties. I got to know the conventions of the genre so well that I could see the resolution coming from chapters away. There are still some authors I don’t ready anymore because I just know how the story is going to play out.
All that said, kicks, jags, streaks, and benders are a great way to force one to think about what draws one to certain stories or characters or settings. Most people who know me know that I love to riff on the absurdities of communism—even though I’m an American who has never come close to even visiting a communist country. Why do I keep returning to this setting? Sure, there’s my love of idealism gone wrong, but there’s also the appeal of characters who maintain individualism and act subversively. There’s the chance of putting myself in the head of someone whose experience is so alien to my own (despite the best efforts of the NSA).
After I finish Gorky Park, I will have to break the streak and get back to my review schedule. And there’s a book I promised another reader I would have a look at. And there’s always my mountain of a to-read pile. So, good bye, Lenin, from me, too!