Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

I can almost hear one or two of you saying ‘but does it matter?’ simply from reading the title of today’s post, and the answer is that maybe it doesn’t, but bear with me. One of the things that I most love about books is also one of the things that freaks me out the most. I will never in my life time be able to read all the books that I really want to read. I have been tinkering with some pages behind the scenes that will be appearing on the site in the next week or so and they have led me to pondering this matter, along with the fact that in just seven days I will be turning thirty which is giving me food for thought in all aspects of my life. In terms of books though, will I ever know what sort of reader I am?

One of the new pages I have been tinkering with is a page which will feature all my favourite authors with their entire bibliographies (I think I have possibly pilfered this idea from Kim at Reading Matters, best form of flattery and all that). This is so that I can see which ones I have read since I have been blogging and which I have missed, so slowly but surely I can make my way through all of them, I might even revisit the ones I have already read pre-blog. Doing this I was surprised at how many of my favourite authors I have not read in ages. Apart from Margaret Atwood, Daphne Du Maurier, Nancy Mitford, Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill I have actually been a little bit rubbish. What happened to wanting to read everything by Anne Tyler, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Muriel Spark, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etc when I know I love their writing so much?

In part I know it is because loving books as I do, and knowing so many people who feel the same way, lots of lovely new shiny books or authors are put in my path. I am not just talking about latest releases and books that are receiving lots of exciting and tempting buzz here either, though I am grateful to everyone who recommended I read ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller which I have just finished and adored. I am also talking about authors who have been going for years, some still producing works and some who have sadly passed away, and have a huge back catalogue, that invariably if I have loved my first reading experience I want to go and read the whole lot of. Just this week I had the absolute joy of reading Beryl Bainbridge  for the first time and adoring ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ (thanks to Gaskella), her narrative voice chimed in with my sense of humour and her writing style was on the money to the style I like to read. So I have now opened ‘Every Man for Himself’ after spotting it in the hospital charity shop yesterday. The rest of the TBR can wait.

I sometimes wonder if having an extensive (you could read that as excessive if you wished) TBR can be a hindrance rather than a joyful personal library, which is what I tell myself it is – you could also call it hoarding. I also wonder if blogging is a help or a hindrance too, but that’s another subject for another time, back to my TBR thoughts.

Since I have moved house I purposefully hid my boxes of unread books to see how long it would be before I routed one out. It has happened all of three times in a month, I seem to be reading new books in from publishers a bit (though my incoming has lessened considerably as I have come to a lovely new agreement with publishers), buying books on occasion in the charity shop down the road which I seem unable to walk past without falling into (how does this happen) or in the main getting books from the library (my new favourite book haunt). I have no idea quite what this is telling me but I do wonder if my tastes are changing again, I think they always evolve, and hence why all those lovely books I have got along the way are left lingering in air tight boxes down the side of my wardrobe that I can’t see.

This may change with my plan of having the ‘Forty for Forty’ page on the blog. All those books you have suggested, and keep them coming here, along with those I have been browsing library and bookshop shelves for which I/you/we ‘should have read’ by the time I/you/we are forty (or ninety or anything in between, under or over come to that). A lot of them are in those air tight boxes behind that wardrobe and have been waiting to be read for some time, years and years in some cases, since I bought them based on the fact that I felt if I was a real reader I would have to jave read that some day.

This could, of course, be lethal. I could end up with a list of forty more authors who have been thrown in my reading path and I want to read everything by (though some of them might have only written one book in which case I will sulk that there are no more for me to find – poor books, they can’t win) taking random detours with. But then is that a bad thing? I guess if it means I am missing out on my favourite authors other works then it is? Hmmm, tricky!

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste and therefore as I wander randomly down the yellow brick road that is my reading path in life, reading all sorts of lovely (and occasionally not so lovely) books, do I lose a sense of who I am as a reader? Should I not know by now, as my third decade spreads in front of me all sparkly and new, know what books I do and don’t like? Should I give up on experimenting, which can go wonderfully right as well as horribly wrong, with new books and authors be they new-new or new to me and stick to what I know? I don’t think I should, yet how do you get the balance just right?

Maybe what I need to do is accept that we never really know the readers we are and that actually that is the whole fun of it? Over time, maybe, in some point in my life reading the authors that I know and love as well as experimenting with the ones I don’t know but might love will reach a natural equilibrium? Maybe I just need to face the dreaded fact I mentioned earlier that I will never read all the books I want to in life… and get over it, move on, pick up a book and just get on with it?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

31 responses to “Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

  1. Curse you and your mind, Simon. I have been going over the exact topic in the last few days and even have a half written blog post on this (great minds and all that!). I find that I’m constantly reading newer books and leaving older (brilliant) titles languishing on the TBR. There are authors that I’ve read one book and am desperate to read their others. Maybe my blogging of newer things takes away from enjoying older works?

    I may have to go away and finish my own blog post on this very topic and report back!

    • Do and let me know when you have! Funny how minds work alike in different places at the same time. I think my imminent birthday has made me do a lot of contemplating… not to be confused with navel gazing!

  2. gaskella

    I love your contemplative posts Simon – they raise as many, if not more, questions than they answer. Speaking as a reader who is old enough to be your mother (eek!), I can say that my thirties and forties brought reading riches beyond compare, and I continue to develop as a reader with every book I read. So look forward to your next decade as a reader.

    Although blogging takes time, for me, it has helped to develop my critical thinking, and I get more out of my reading the more I read too. The extent of my TBR mountain range does worry me – at the rate of shiny new books that I get and read, my TBR will outlive me. I need to get on with it too!

    • Ha, they definitely raise more questions than they answer, I can’t deny that. I think I am in a rather more contemplative mood at the moment, in a wholly positive way.

      I think the shiny new books is something I have to work out how I feel about. I love them but want to read them less than I do now and read wonderful authors like Beryl.

  3. Surely, if you knew what kind of reader you are, you could end up reading a much narrower range of books, because you would then tend to stick the tried and tested, with authors, genres, periods etc that you knew and liked. I find part of the fun of reading lies in exploring new things – especially books and authors recommended by other people.

    • I wouldn’t say narrower, maybe just more focused, but you are right having a more open minded approach does lead to some treats but it also takes you away from authors you love.

  4. Wonderful philosophical pondering, Simon! I used to suffer from this anguish myself: I will never have time to read all of the books I want, and what about rereading my old favourites (I used to read all the Jane Austen novels every year)?
    But then I realised that I will never get to travel to all the countries I want to see, or talk to all the people I admire, or experience all the adventures I want to experience… So I can either over-plan and worry about not meeting the target, or I can be a river, vaguely sure about the sea I want to join, but meandering about through the landscape on the way there, allowing myself to be surprised.

    • Thanks Marina. I didn’t even pop re-reading in the equation, silly me. Its a very good point too, there are books I want to revisit now and again and they sometimes get put back over the shiny new books.

      I like your river analogy, beautifully put.

  5. I another one who is old enough to be your mother, in fact I have a son who is ten years older than you. Now that I am 65, I am looking at each book and wondering is this worth my reading time. Most are! That’s the trouble. Being methodical, I devised a spreadspreet and have dated the time each book was received. I started adding the date in 2010 so what I do when all my reveiws are done is to pull out a book without a date, I seem to get about four a month done.. Of course, there are cheater books that manage to sneak in but I try to hold that down.

    • I have a spreadsheet but I don’t put the dates the books arrived in, just what I have where. I do now have ‘incoming’ shelves and they are all in release date order, makes it easier to see whats out when… though I do tend to ignore it, ha.

  6. When I was in grad school I wanted to make t-shirts saying “So many books, so little time” and now that I’m well out, it seems to still apply. I don’t have a physical TBR, but the list on Goodreads just keeps getting longer (which is partly the fault of you and Gav, I might add). There are lots of books I feel I should read, and things I just plain want to read, but slowly and surely I’m coming down on the side of reading on a whim. Wasn’t that your plan for the year? Maybe stop worrying about turning thirty and start worrying about the Mayan Apocalypse?

  7. Simon, you’ll grow out of it perhaps? I did. I had a large list (mental not written) of books I knew I wanted (needed?) to read, many of them “classics” of European and US literature. Well I grew up (and that is NOT to imply an improvement) and relaxed and now I just read books and have no particualr desire to read all of anybody (compare my late teens when I read everything by Colette translated into English at the time) or, with very rare exceptions, any book at all – even those recommended by people whose views I respect such as yourself. I think Marina-Sofia puts it well about being a river, perhaps as a young mountain stream you have a very direct and rapid route to follow, but as you mature then you meander through the flood plain on your way to a boundless sea.

    • This certainly reflects my reading and experience, the older I get the less important it seems to have read this or watched that (I get increasingly annoyed by those lists of a hundred or a thousand things you must do before you die). I am definitely a meandering river, and not a brisk mountain stream.

      • Yeah I think hype used to excite me, it doesnt so much now, in fact quite the opposite and thats oddly a good thing. I need excuses to be put off a book.

    • Hahahaha are you telling me to grow up? Ha!

      I think I am quite relaxed, I just sometimes ponder the whole reading thing and pop myself in check.

  8. rburdock

    Bottom line? I think you’re overthinking it Simon. Just let the ‘journey’ (and your fancy) takes you where it takes you.

    Oh, and listen to your heart more than your mind, because your heart has a more direct link to your soul, and ultimately that’s what you’re nurturing.

  9. I like my rambling personal library, it’s nice to know I always have a choice of books to read. I think blogging has made me ignore some of the older books though. I normally try and balance personal reads from the depths of the TBR with review reads but this month I’m joining in with a group effort of clearing up the review backlog. Which is great because there’s probably some great stuff in there that I’ve forgotten about. But I do feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books I want to read. Sometimes I can’t choose what next because I have so much choice. On the other hand, I have no desire to narrow my reading tastes…it just depends on what I’m in the mood for. And oh look, shiny books…

    • I like teh fact I have lots of books to choose from, that said I can of course pop to library and do my bit to help them and keep them going. Its the older books I worry about though. I don’t think reading older books can narrow my reading though, like with reading Beryl Bainbridge recently and finding a new, odler, set of books that I want to read.

  10. Before book blogging, I would find an author I loved and devour their entire catalogue from start to finish and decide if I loved them all over or maybe just one or two of their books and through this I defined what kind of reader I was. Now I dip into authors, swear to read their other works and then I move on to the next one and don’t follow through with my plan. And, yes, my definition of myself as a reader has completely blurred and faded. Do I mind? I’m not sure. I do still think about it sometimes but I also decide that what I’ve lost in definition I’ve gained in scope and growth. So I guess I’m saying that prolific readers like us will probably never be defined and it’s probably okay.

    • Like you Kristen I don’t midn the fact that my reading has gone off on tangents but I do want to keep the authors I love much more firmly on my radar over the new ones. At the same time I am not going to force it.

  11. JoV

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. I envy those who read classics in school when they are at their teens but I only started them in my middle 30’s which means I have lost a good many years of not reading great literature (but mired in textbooks and management books).. I’m a bit anxious as well. I’m well into my middle age and wonder how many years more I could live before I could read most of the great works on earth. Still I’m not being selective and if there is only one reason to hope that I live longer, is to live long enough to read most of the books I wanted to read.

  12. Louise Trolle

    I get a bit frustrated at times!
    I have 604 books on my wishlist at Amazon, and 700-800 books at home that I haven’t read yet, writers like Margaret Atwood and Kate Atkinson (who I think I’ll like, so I have 4-5 of their books), and plenty others that I’ve been wanting to read for years and years.

    On the other hand, when Goodreads or others post “vote for the best books of 2011”, I haven’t gotten round to reading those yet – maybe just one – but I’ve bought several of them (thanks to you + Ann and Michael from BOTNS etc.) So I want to read all my gems at home, but I also want to be on the beat with new books.

    In reality, apart from our monthly bookclub, it’s really random what I DO read. I just bought Diving Belles, because of it’s many praises, and I’ll probably start that soon! However, I also have 4-5 books by Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami and Garth Nix that I really really want to read – and have wanted to for ages!

    I use the reading challenges, to remind myself to read specific books. I’m doing the 52 books from 52 countries one, and actually had around 41 books to fit the category already (and then I got to buy 11 more books yay! 🙂

    • I did used to buy every book by and author I loved if I saw them on the off chance, generally in second hand stores, but it just makes your TBR so huge and weirdly adds pressure to read them rather than taking it away. I haven’t binged on an author in a very long time because you can get too much of a good thing.

      Its just a case of juggling them mix isnt it?

  13. I’m not sure what reader I am or what reader you are, but from this post I can see we are rather different. I don’t want to read every book a favourite author has written, invariably because while I love one book I dislike the others, or they don’t move me as much. I think if I had to came up with the type of reader I am I’d say an ’emotional’ one. As I prefer to be emotionally effected by a book than enjoy the aesthetics (not that they aren’t important too).

    • Oh I am definitely someone who likes a book to have an affect on me, be it emotional or making me question the world or myself as a reader. I find certain authors do this again and again and they become my favourites, my go to books.

  14. I tackle my reading one book at time but have been meaning to read some of my older titles recently ,all the best stu

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