Monday, June 27, 2011

Literary Personality


I recently finished a book and went into my *library* to pick out a new one. I usually take great pleasure in this activity. I get to walk downstairs whenever I'm done with a book and peruse in my very miniature Barnes and Noble. [If only I could just recreate the smell]. The great span of bookshelves in the study provides me with a wonderful sense of accomplishment. This day, however, I felt a little introspective. And a little troubled. What does my collection of books say about me? Am I proud of what my books convey [my classics and non-fiction sections are growing to a respectable size]? Or a little embarrassed [Breaking Dawn anyone?]? Or a little defeated when I acknowledge how many books in my collection I've never read [like a gigantic leather-bound, gold-leafed complete works of Shakespeare that I own mainly because it looks pretty on my shelf]?

I worry about this because I'd like to consider myself to have somewhat of a classy, academic taste in books. I don't normally read chick-lit or mysteries. I refuse to participate in any book club that reads Nicholas Sparks or anything with an Oprah seal on the cover. I admire people who read authors that have never appeared on the NY Times Bestseller list or whose books were never reviewed in People magazine. [Much like I admire people who totally get Indie Rock.] But perhaps I admire these people because I'm not really as academic in my reading as I hoped. My book-snobbery is a ruse!

When having conversations with adults that are much more adult-like than me, I secretly fear that currently-reading-books will come up and at that point in time, I'll be reading some embarrassing chick-lit or mass market thriller, and I'll have to lie and say I'm reading Atlas Shrugged for the third time. This wouldn't entirely be a lie because I am on my third attempt to read Atlas Shrugged, I haven't removed my bookmark, it still moves along with the rapidity of swimming through a pool of freshly poured concrete. It was in my most recent stint with AS that I began to question my literary personality. I would spend an hour reading AS and find that I'd progressed about 2 pages and was not entirely sure why I was still reading. I thought I was smarter than this, I would tell myself. Am I really enjoying this book or am I reading it because I think it adds to my literary repertoire? Why am I having much more success, and let's just say it, FUN reading Bridget Jones' Diary? [Sidenote: the above picture best represents how I felt while reading AS]

In looking at my books the other night, I started to really contemplate my choices. Other than that I bought them for about 50 cents a piece, why do I own so many John Grisham books? Do I like Grisham that much? At one point in my life, I must have. Grisham was one of my first experiences with grown-up novels. I read my first one in my early teens and loved it and was subsequently responsible in part for my early interest in the law. Likewise with my Jason Bourne series and handful of Mary Higgins Clark. They don't fit with any other genre I own nor have I read either in years but I can recall the time in my life when I read them and why I loved them. As can be expected, my taste in books has changed. I do secretly hope that my Jonathan Safran Foer and Jhumpa Lahiri are more noticeable than my Charlaine Harris. But I'm realizing that I need to embrace the diversity instead of being apologetic.

There are quite a few books in my collection that I haven't read let alone remember even buying. Those will inevitably end up in the Goodwill/Used Bookstore box. But I've resolved that I will keep these older books that I haven't cracked open in years. Perhaps the key to identifying my literary personality is not what I want to portray as a reader, but what my reading journey has brought me to. While my collection of books may not be worthy of bequeathing to the Library of Congress when I die, it is a collection of me and the various roads of life that are reflected in each book.

I think I'm ready to admit that I'm not really the literary personality that I thought I was. I'm ready to recognize my History/Political Science collegiate background as nothing more than the cause for getting more answers right on Jeopardy. I'm ready to embrace the fact that I LOVE the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich [although I stopped at book 10 because they kinda started to suck]. I'm ready to remove the guise of a well-read academic. Do I really enjoy reading non-fiction? Only sparingly and on recommendation. I hate biographies. Political theorists make me want to punch someone in the face. And why do award-winning, best-selling novels always have to be soul-wrenchingly depressing? I don't care if the writing is brilliant, it only makes the depression that much more powerfully conveyed. Why try to refuse myself the type of reading that will make me happy all for the sake of appearing more grown up? And ya know what, listening to Harry Potter #7 on audio for the 3rd time makes me pretty darn happy.


  1. Hmmm...I never asked if I could put my books on your shelf when we lived together b/c I was slightly embarrassed that it was pretty much all chick lit crap. I've gotten over that now. I love that crap. Reading to me is an escape from reality. And I want to escape to a place where everyone falls in love and the story ends with a pretty little bow...somewhat like my movie choices... :)
    BJD Forever!!

  2. I had to get over the idea that I was some kind of literary savant. I think I realizes I was just a normal person when I went to college and had classes with other English majors; then I wasn't the only one who had read Gone With the Wind when they were twelve.

    I love good books, and Christian has convinced me that critical acclaim isn't the only way to judge good books from bad. Is it entertaining? Do we enjoy it? If so, we call it a good book. I love my YA fiction {I'm reading Jackaroo for probably the sixth time}, and I'm not ready to give it up. I so enjoyed BJD, but I also loved Atlas Shrugged.

    I feel like if we only read critically acclaimed/scholarly books, then reading would get boring. It would be like going to school all the time.

  3. Like you I am a huge fan of literature. I have quite the collection of books and on occasion I stop and look at my shelves and wonder when my taste in literature will grow up. And then I remember that I read what I read because the author has written it in such a way that it sucks me in and I forget where I am and suddenly 5 hours later as the light through the window begins to fade I snap out of it and remember I'm not actually chasing down bad guys with a stun gun strapped to my side 50 years in the future, I'm just reading about it. AND I love it! Keep up the eclectic book gathering, it says that you're a person that gets a great deal of joy from many different things :-)

  4. Reading Atlas Shrugged is like jogging: you need a partner in order to get it done. I had a partner--actually several, since it was a book club book, but they all dropped out so it was just me and Nicole Empey finished it. The girl who RECOMMENDED the book didn't even finish! Bah! I must say it was worth it in the end.
    As you know, I personally love your mini Barnes and Noble, but you are correct when you say that everything ultimately comes back to harry potter, for it is matchless.
    PS I know how to make your home smell like Barnes and Noble....

  5. ps2: LOVE the photo. I want to see YOU do that, though. Pregnant!

  6. So funny - in a "I can totally relate" kind of way. This is like my love-hate relationship with the hipster movement. I have bought many a book to make myself look cool and well-read. Is it more embarrassing that I am a book poser who really has never read the 19th century printed book of War and Peace I have displayed prominently on my shelf, or is it more embarrassing that I read Twilight three times? Not sure. But I like what I like and there is some social proof in the masses. And heck, if I ever want to be an author on the NY Times Bestsellers list, I better not shun it now.

    Besides, my usual book choices are random books at the library that catch my attention through their title or book jacket. No one knows what they are. They aren't usually best sellers or revered works. The authors are unknown. But I enjoy my little private discoveries.

    I've never been able to keep up with a book club because I just can't stand not choosing my own books!

    Enjoy whatever the heck you want. I won't judge. I only judge people who claim to hate reading. :)


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