I was going to follow up last week’s “work and vocation” post with a “work and money” post … because I feel like I still have some things to say about work and class-based experiences of work and vocation, and what it means to have income and economic agency … but all that’s going to take a bit more brainpower to formulate than I have at the minute. So we’re taking a time-out this week with a lighter topic: reading!

It probably hasn’t escaped you that I’m fond of reading. What with being a librarian and all. Reading, even more than writing, is probably in my blood given that I’m the daughter of two English majors and grew up in a home that — I’m speaking literally here — had books in every room.

But what I’ve read has, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, changed over the years. The part of me that’s prone to list-making and historical chronicaling (in my parents’ attic, I have lists of “books read” stretching back into my early adolescence) enjoys taking note of trends over time and speculating about what this means about the sort of person I currently am, used to be, and will become.

books read so far in 2011 (goodreads)

This year, for example — as evidenced by my GoodReads list, at right — I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction in the areas of history, sexuality, and politics (big surprise, I know). The two years before that, unsurprisingly, were even heavier in history given all the background research I was doing for my thesis. Still, I read lots more non-fiction these days, even sans graduate school, then I did as a child and into my teens. Oh, I still read fiction — mostly genre stuff (fantasy, science fiction, mystery) and fan fiction, truth be told — but to be honest? I never made the leap from middle grade/young adult fiction to adult literature.

Like, okay, yes. I can get sucked into a modern novel but it usually has to have some sort of supernatural or historical element — if you can squeeze in some of both, I’m totally there. Think Camille DeAngelis’ Mary, Modern, a modern-day Frankenstein in which a geneticist clones her grandmother in the basement and it all goes wrong. Or Martin Cruz Smith’s Rose, a historical novel/mystery/romance in which an American explorer down on his luck gets hired to investigate the disappearance of a vicar in Wigan, Yorkshire. Or Audrey Niffenegger’s now-famous The Time-Traveler’s Wife, which not only involved time travel by the landscape of my childhood — how could I escape getting sucked into that? And well-written sexytimes will never go amiss.

I’d say, on the whole, that these recent titles are a fairly accurate representation of the type books that I read these days:

last fifteen titles read (goodreads)

I actually learned to read “late,” according to a lot of school-based expectations. I was about six years old, between six and seven. I wasn’t much into practicing at reading (practicing at anything, really) and found
those beginning-to-read books mostly boring, unless I happened to like them for the story rather than the repetitive words. I must have been rehearsing on some level, though, because what I remember is the day I pulled The Best Christmas Pageant Ever off the shelf and discovered the words on the page made sense.

That obviously wasn’t the beginning of my love affair with reading, given that my parents read to us regularly and continued to do so long after we could read for ourselves — family bedtime stories didn’t stop until I was into my teens. But being able to read on my own meant more books. I used to go to the library, check out a stack of novels — I’m talking 10, 12, 15 books at a time — and read through them in an afternoon.

Ah, happy memories.

I have to say being able to read like that was a big incentive not to go to school, like, ever. Because going to school would have meant not being able to spend the day reading. And seriously: who would want that sort of fate!

Of course, as a college student and graduate student reading (and writing) were a major part of what I did, what I was expected to do, in school — so the conflict sort of faded away. Though there were always types of reading that waxed and waned during term-time. New fiction, for example, rarely got a look-in while my stand-by favorites became battered from the constant emergency comfort reading.

I was introduced to the world of advance review copies as a teenager when I worked at a children’s bookstore. We used to circulate the ARCs among the staff and eventually got to take them home once they’d outlived their usefulness. Again at Barnes & Noble free pre-pub copies were a regular and delicious perk of being on staff. I love the element of surprise in advance review copies: they’re unknown quantities, particularly if by unknown authors, which hold the promise of being brilliant gems as well as dreadful mistakes.

One of the best things about being a librarian (and, really, a blogger) is that they give you books for free. In the past five years I’ve been offered advance copies and electronic galleys of really interesting stuff that I might otherwise never have read — in part because I offer to review stuff on the internets, and in part because I am a librarian which is a professional credential that opens doors.

It’s like crack for bibliophiles: come work for us and we will give you free books to read!

Um, sure! Where do I sign!

Georges Island (Boston Harbor), 2007
When I learned to read, reading was still something you did offline. In that, there actually wasn’t an online — or at least, not an online for people like me (and probably you). I didn’t have a personal email address until … 1997ish? College. I was in college before the internet was a reality in my life. Which I’m sure to some of you makes me seem like an infant just out of diapers and to some of you makes me seem ancient.
Anyways. The point being, this reading-shit-online is still a new development for me. I’m still getting used to counting the reading I do online as reading, in fact, despite the reality that maybe 50% at least of the reading I do during the course of any day is now online or in electronic form: e-books, PDFs, etc. We pre-‘net generation types are used to thinking about reading in terms of books finished, or pages read. According to GoodReads I’ve read (for example) 59 books and 16,710 pages so far this year. But that doesn’t include all the fan fiction I read, or the blog posts I take in, or the journal articles I read for work and pleasure.
I downloaded a PDF file of one of my favorite fan works a few weeks ago and the PDF was over 200 pages long. That’s a respectable novella-length story. Just sayin’.
For those of us interested in chronicling our reading habits, how do we document that sort of thing? How do we leave a record of online materials read and digested — how do we leave traces of our textual influences? It’s an ongoing question.
Hanna and I argue about whether things like fan fiction actually “count” as “reading” (of the legitimate vs. non-legitimate variety). If you read this blog regularly you probably know where I come down on the issue of categorizing things as “legit” or not. It’s a friendly debate (although she absolutely draws the line at audiofic, since apparently fic-on-tape is the final straw!) and an apparently insoluable one, for now.
I’m not sure if all this online reading has altered the way I read. I find it more difficult to get lost in a book these days — the sort of uninterrupted reading sessions I had as a child and adolescent which involved resurfacing at 3am bleary-eyed and a little bit nauseated from the virtigo. I remember distinctly half a dozen specific books over which I made the concious decision to read until they were finished, even if it meant falling asleep at 5am. Because the story simply couldn’t wait.
I don’t do that so much anymore, but I don’t know how much of that is the (supposedly) shortened attention span created by extensive internet connectivity and how much is the training I had as a college student — that dual-consciousness of both reading a book and analyzing it. It’s hard for me to turn that part of my brain off now, even when I’m reading a ripping yarn. I don’t think it necessarily detracts from the experience of the story, though it does mean I need to be sure to keep multiple books on hand for when distraction rears its head and I need to switch genres for a bit.
All things considered, I’m more inclined to blame it on school and work (both of which demand constantly-divided attention) than the medium of the internet per se. If blame even needs to be considered as an option, seeing as I’m still reading and enjoying it — which frankly is all that matters to me.