A couple of years ago, my reading tastes started to shift. I’ve always loved to read, and I’m a firm proponent of the novel, but I started to notice that many novels were kind of the same. Once you’ve read one Harlequin romance novel, you’ve kinda read them all. I started craving variety in my reading life.
Some of my favorite books have snippets of poetry or quotations to introduce chapters, or peppered in the text. I enjoyed those morsels without thinking much of them. Then, one day, it hit me. The authors I most enjoy are well-read, and are not just reading whatever entertains them.
Two years ago, I looked around for a list of classics, wanting to be more well-read, hoping that would help me be a better writer. I wasn’t thinking there’d be some sort of magical transformation or anything, but just that I could learn some things from the masters.
I’d read some of the books on the list, and some of them were books I’ve loved. But of the ones I hadn’t read, I had to force my way through the first few books on my list. Reading novels, I was accustomed to reading fast, zipping my way through the pages without having to pay particular attention to anything. With many of these new books that I was choosing to exercise my mind rather than just for fun, it was actually work. I had to slow down, read closely, figure out some of the meaning.
At first, it wasn’t fun. It was hard, not something I’m used to associating with reading. But the more I’ve done, the more I want to do. I’m getting to the point where I want to read harder books. Not primarily because I want to be a better author or because I somehow think I should, but because the ideas contained in many of these books enflame me. Ideas and concepts are timeless.
In reading these books, I’ve started highlighting sentences and passages, wanting to get more out of them. The act of highlighting seems magical, as if that yellow line will somehow imprint the wonderfulness of the sentence into my brain.
I’ve always been a big re-reader, visiting with old friends. I find I’m doing less of it, for several reasons. First, who has time for that? Without exaggerating, I can say I have at least 100 books on my TBR list. I read 100 books last year, but I can’t just read all difficult books. Plus, I add new books my list all the time.
Second, some of the books I’ve read in the past don’t stand up on re-reading. I had that experience recently, when I read a beloved book. I hadn’t read it in a few years, and when I read it this time around, it wasn’t as good as I remembered. I found myself critiquing the writing, finding places where the author hit me over the head with philosophy, when it would have been much better to let me draw my own conclusions. I didn’t like that experience, and may think twice about re-reading books I’m nostalgic about.
I’m certainly not saying that I’m going to stop reading genre fiction. Not at all. It’s what I write and what I love. I’m just saying that there are so many good books out there, and that my goal is to read as many of them as I can in my lifetime.
Have anyone else’s reading tastes changed over time?