Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reading Variety (Stephanie Kuehnert)

I've been a monogamous reader for as long as I can remember--and from reading my fellow YAOTLers posts, it seems that's an aberration! The only exception was college. Being a creative writing major meant I had different books assigned in different classes so I had to juggle them and I did, but I definitely viewed it as work and I didn't read "for pleasure" unless I was on break. (Though, being a creative writing major, most of the books I read for school were incredible and something I wanted to read anyway--Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Dorothy Allison, Irvine Welsh, John Steinbeck--so school reading was pleasure reading, but in my summers off, I just binged on Harry Potter.)

But as soon as I finished my MFA and started juggling full-time work and writing, something horrible happened: I stopped reading. I went from being a person who binged on book after book, reading at least a book a week, to someone who read maybe five books a year. I kept collecting books, planning to read them, skimming even, but I couldn't commit. In my defense, I worked nights which has always been my primary reading time, but starting last year I made a concerted effort to read on my nights off. Then (HALLELUJAH!) I moved to Seattle and got a job with normal hours--actually with normal hours AND a lunch break. Last year I read 34 books, which may not seem like a ton to big readers (it certainly wouldn't have seemed like much to me ten years ago), but it was huge for me and made want to read more this year. I also want to shake it up! I noticed that last year every book I read but one was fiction. So I've set some specific goals for myself: 2 novels a month, 1 non-fiction book a month plus I would like to read at least 3 books of poetry or novels-in-verse this year and 4 writing craft/inspiration books this year. If I can read more and do 50 books total, I would consider that a serious accomplishment.

I've got carved out time to meet these goals. I make sure to give myself at least 15 minutes (preferably half an hour) to read before bed. As someone who struggles with insomnia, I actually find this is crucial for helping me unwind (well, except when you get completely caught up in a story). And as I mentioned before, I also have a lunch break at work--a full hour, in fact! Sometimes I have lunch dates, and when I am teaching on top of my dayjob, I do use my lunch break to read student work, but when I'm not doing those things, I'm reading. Since I don't like lugging books back and forth between work and home, I've finally broken my monogamous reading habit! I have a work book and home book and while one is always fiction, I make sure that the other is something else. However, I got soooooo obsessed with the last novel I read that I had to go back and forth with it (fortunately, it was on my Kindle!):

I can't really tell you about it--I would have to lie--all I am going to say is that it made me want to be a better writer and that is basically the highest compliment I can pay a book. It was also finished novel number 8, so I'm on track there.

Usually I read fiction in bed at night and non-fiction and poetry on my lunch break, probably because I've always associated bedtime with curling up with a novel and non-fiction with, well, being awake enough to take notes. But right now the non-fiction book I'm reading (or rereading actually since I first read it at 16) is so huge, I'm keeping it at home. I'd also hoped that maybe it would be easier to stop at night and go to sleep, and in some ways it is, but it's also making me sit up to scrawl notes and generating story ideas that keep me awake--not that I can complain since I've been feeling frighteningly uninspired as of late. Anyway this will be non-fiction read number 4, which is right on track, but it's a big one so it might take me through May:

I've got my third poetry book cued up and ready to read at work. It was lent to me by one of the professors I work with because the poet is an alum of our program, which is extra cool. Also exciting, I'm really really REALLY into poetry/novels-in-verse for the first time since my late teens. It started with my empowering reread of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf and then a reread of Crank and now I'm just addicted. I think I'm going to check out the novels-in-verse that Jenny O'Connell recommended here after I finish up this collection:

Admittedly, the one place where I'm flailing is craft books because I usually just skim those. However, I've added a little more reading to my routine and am starting out some of my weekday mornings with a chapter from this book, which I find highly inspirational and REALLY necessary since I'm struggling to write/figure out what I want to write right now:

It's basically a bunch of successful authors from all corners of the literary world talking about why they do what we all do. It's an excellent pick-me-up, which is exactly what reading should be and I'm glad to have so many types of good books in my life right now!