Domestic Chores: Being the Family Book-Picker

After this many years of marriage, the routines are pretty much set in stone.student-147783_1280

He cooks. I do the dishes. He does the food shopping. I supervise homework. He waters the garden. I handle all tech support. He unclogs stuff. I do the online bill paying.

It all works.

Our other sharply defined division of labor?

I pick out his reading material.

Here’s the deal. My husband did not grow up in the US and is not a native English speaker, although his English is actually excellent. He’s always enjoyed reading (and if you want to know the role that reading played in our romance, you can read about it here), but he didn’t start reading books in English until well into his 20s. He also (gasp! horrors!) doesn’t think about books and reading non-stop, the way that I do.

He’s told me, for instance, “I don’t care who wrote the book, so long as it’s good.” And “I don’t keep track of authors.”

I’m not sure that he’s ever gone into a bookstore without me dragging him by the hand.

He certainly does not read book reviews. (He also does not read my blog, so HI HONEY! I can say what I want with impunity.)

BUT…

He does love to read. Granted, he usually only makes it through 5 – 10 pages at a time. He reads in bed and then falls asleep. Cute, right?

My job is to pick his books. Crazy, I know. But hey, we have a system.

A good book can last him a few months. But once he’s done, he’ll inform me, “I need a book.” It’s my job to go search the bookshelves and come up with a few choices, then hand him a stack and maybe provide a few comments on each.

It’s harder than it sounds. I read everything; he does not. A good half (or maybe even 2/3) of my books are out of the question from the outset. He won’t read science fiction*, fantasy**, horror, paranormal/supernatural, or anything approaching brick-like size.

*He did read science fiction in his teens: Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury… but has no interest now.

**He did, however, read and enjoy The Time Traveler’s Wife. Go figure.

He also refuses books with any but a straight-forward narrative style (Beloved by Toni Morrison was quickly rejected), complains when books have long descriptive passages (“gibberish”, as he puts it) or just don’t grab him for whatever stray reason. He has also read books all the way through and then quit five pages before the end, saying that he “got the point already” and was done. (The Poisonwood Bible comes to mind…)

Recent successes? Biggest hits recently have been The Thorn Birds (which he remembered fondly as a TV mini-series) and Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende. Lately, we’ve done well with Allende, Lisa See, and Amy Tan. He seems to enjoy books with a non-US setting, where he gets to explore new cultures and read about beliefs, traditions, and superstitions that he hasn’t encountered before.

So far, he’s steadfastly refused to read Outlander or A Game of Thrones, perhaps because they’re kinda huge, or maybe it’s just because I keep pushing them. Like, constantly.

Because hubby dearest does not keep track of titles or authors, we’ve had the somewhat hilarious experience of having him get halfway through a book before realizing that he’s read it before. In the case of A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, by the time he got that far, he was hooked again, so this became one of the rare books that he’s read more than once.

girl-160169_1280He’s decided that I should start tracking his reading… and seeing how much I love a) Excel and b) playing with books, I’ve started a worksheet of his recent reading. I’m NOT setting him up with his own Goodreads account, because he’d use it about as often as he uses his Facebook account (i.e., never) — but if I’m supposed to just remember what he’s read, then we’re both in trouble.

Meanwhile, he tells me that I’m doing great. I feel like my choices fail at least as often as they succeed — but, hey, I haven’t run out of options yet. It really is in my best interest to keep him reading, after all — that way I get more uninterrupted reading time for myself!

It’s fun, actually. Considering how much time I spend reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, and writing about books, it’s nice to be able to share this with him. Granted, he’ll never come to a book signing with me or get all excited about the big annual library book sale… but at least he appreciates the joy of a good book and will even initiate book discussions once in a while!

Meanwhile, don’t even get me started on my “no, I don’t feel like reading!” kid. I swear he’s mine — I remember the delivery quite clearly! — but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I ended up with a kid who just has no interest in reading… much as I push and push and push.

Oy. Well. At least one of the males in my household appreciates my book-pushing and book-picking efforts.

 

Reading & blogging, chickens & eggs

One evening several months ago, my kid launched, quite seriously, into a discussion at the dinner table. Topic? “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Not new ground by any means for adults, but for him, it was a fun debate topic.

I was reminded of this discussion this week as I felt myself getting more and more frustrated and overwhelmed by my reading and blogging to-do lists. What’s the connection?

It’s simple: I started feeling under quite a bit of pressure to schedule my reading around the ARCs and digital galleys lined up in my queue. And yet, at the same time, I have a growing stack of new books that I couldn’t wait to buy, a few library books, and some older books on my shelves, all awaiting my attention. Which raises the question — what the heck am I doing?

I started a blog as an outlet for my love of all things bookish. I wanted a place to share my thoughts, meet other book lovers, and — I’d hoped — engage in great discussions about some terrific books. And that’s all come true, more or less, and with lots of trial and error.

But lately, I’ve been feeling the need to pick books to read in order to meet my blogging needs. I’ve been requesting and reviewing more ARCs, some of which I’ve really enjoyed — but always with an eye toward keeping up with what’s new and reviewing books that are more likely to get “hits” for my blog. I’ve been hesitating about devoting time to longer books, as that would mean I’d have fewer reviews to post in a given week. And those books gathering dust on my shelves — the ones that I’ve had for a while or that were published several years ago? Well, where’s the incentive to read those, if I don’t feel like they’re likely to increase my blog traffic?

No wonder I’ve been feeling like not such a happy camper. I have five review copies of new and upcoming books to read — but what I really want to do is read the Susanna Kearsley book on my shelf, then dive into the new Joe Hill novel that should be arriving on my doorstep this week. Plus, hey, I have a few graphic novels to catch up on, and then there’s the promise I made to myself to read one scene from Much Ado About Nothing each day.

Not only that. What about my blog posts back in December and January about my reading resolutions for 2013 and my participation in a TBR reading challenge? Should those be driving my book selections? I was diligently working my way through the TBR challenge list I’d selected for myself — for about three months, and then other books caught my eye. So now I feel guilty about not living up to a challenge I set myself… except why should I? Wasn’t the whole point of it TO HAVE FUN?

Really, I have enough things in my life to worry about. I have a full-time job (which, unfortunately, has nothing at all to do with reading books). I have an energetic, funny 10-year-old who occupies most of my free time around the house (not that that’s not a great thing!). I have an older parent whom I should call more often. I have bills to pay, dishes to put away, a husband who needs attention once in a while. READING IS MY PASSION — NOT MY BURDEN!

Back in January, in my blog post called Top Ten Bookish Resolutions for 2013, I wrote this for #10:

Slow down. Stop focusing on the numbers. Stop worrying about stats. Read for pleasure. Pick books because they’re what I want to read. Take as long as it takes to read, savor, enjoy, contemplate, consider, ponder, and reflect. Remember that I read because I love it, not because I have a challenge to meet or a blog post to write. When I stop enjoying my reading and start finding it more of a chore, I know I’m doing something wrong. READ FOR LOVE. That is all.

Clearly, I haven’t been following my own advice.

Back to the chicken and the egg: Which comes first, blogging or reading? Do I blog as a result of reading books that I love? Or do I pick books to read that I think will help my blog stats?

The answer is obvious. I need to remind myself to stick to my resolution:

READ FOR LOVE.

I hereby vow, once again, that I will not let blogging obsessions dictate my reading choices. I will read the books that call to me, that excite me, that appeal to me in the moment. Planning ahead is fine. Requesting ARCs of new books is fine. But if I’m reading a particular book out of a sense of obligation or in order to have a “fresh” book to review, then I’m doing something wrong.

Which comes first, blogging or reading? It’s clear: I’m a reader. And always will be.

So, I’ll do what I love. I’ll read the books that I really want to read. And I’ll keep on blogging about what I read, because it makes me happy. And hey, if we can have some great conversations about the books we’ve read, that’ll make me really happy too.

READ FOR LOVE.

I think I’ve found my new daily mantra. Happy reading, everyone!