By Rob Hilferty
Summer is right around the corner and that means most people have a lot more time on their hands. School is out, the days get longer. Most people use the summer as an excuse to travel, go outside, or work on some long forgotten projects. You know, like that book you've been meaning to get around to since Christmas. Or that stack of books you bought last year that you've totally been meaning to get around to once things finally settled down at the new apartment.
Yeah, assuming that you're not just skimming the bolded text like with all numbered lists, you know you're here because you probably need help with the whole reading list thing. I mean, really, what else are you going to for the summer, go outside? Do you know how fucking hot is it out there?
1. Break Your List Into Chunks to Make it Seem Less Daunting
First things first. You want to sit down and actually compile a list of all the things you want to read. Now this may seem fairly straightforward, but you can't just go balls deep on the first thrust. You've got to find and develop a rhythm that's sustainable for at least three months. Look at the list of books you have already. Even with all that Vitamin D from the summer sun, do you really think you're going to be able to read Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow, and Finnegan's Wake all in a row without wanting to slit your wrists?
Be realistic and spread your books out. Toss in some light fantasy or pulp novels in between the heavier literature to keep you reading consistently. Depending on how ambitious your stack is, separating it into four to six book chunks with good mix of light and heavy reading will drastically reduce your chances of burning out within the first few weeks. And speaking of burn out...
2. Don't Be Afraid to Put a Book Down
Sometimes you really think you're going to like a book only to discover it sucks. Maybe the author pulled a bait and switch on you when you picked up a book about salt only to discover it's actually about cod, maybe reading Mysterious Skin when you're going through a personal crisis wasn't the best idea, or maybe you just really hate this fucking book you're reading right now for no reason.
Hey, it's cool. Put the book down and try something else. You can always go back and revisit that book but for the time being that book, for whatever reason just wasn't the book for you. Put the book down, walk away, and move on.
What you don't want to do is grit your teeth and push through a shitty book just because it's on your list. Now that's not to say that you shouldn't push through a challenging book that you like, but sometimes those types of books can kill your reading habit. It took me three tries to get through Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian before I finally cracked it. Was it an excellent read? Absolutely. Was it worth my time and intellectual pursuit? Hell yes. Would I recommend it to everyone? Fuck no. The first two times I tried reading Blood Meridian were so demoralizing I actually stopped reading for a month or two afterwards because I felt so guilty about not finishing a book I was really interested in. Admittedly, the book is designed to be arduous for a reason, but not having anything to follow up with just killed my spirit. Had I just dropped the book and come back later I probably would've been able to read it a lot sooner than I ended up doing. However, the guilt was too strong to let me enjoy anything else. If we all followed Kenny Roger's sage advice about knowing when to fold ‘em, it would truly be a better world.
3. Read a Book You Wouldn't Normally Read
Now you're probably questioning this one because you're skeptical about finishing books you're actually interested in but seriously this one works. If you're really into a story driven fantasy novels, maybe try a historically accurate biography. Reading the same types of books can start to feel stale after a while, even when you really like them.
Part of the magic of reading is in discovering something wondrous about something you'd never thought to care about before. Books should inspire and educate people about how the world is, was, and can be. Good books should get you interested in something through compelling story telling and prose. Anyone whose ever read an Erik Larson book knows that he's a storyteller just as much as he's an historian. The point is, go read something different. Go learn something highly technical or read something bafflingly fantastic. Worse comes to worst you can always drop it and go back to your safety zone.
4. Find Someone You Can Talk to About Books
Whether it's a book club, a good friend, or an online forum, finding someone to talk about the totally awesome book you just read is exciting. When you're able to discuss books, especially particularly difficult and layered books, everything just feels better. Maybe you missed some big key piece in the novel that's been making you hate it, or perhaps you can just share in the thrill of talking about something brilliant.
Writing is an art, and despite what some people would say, it's an extremely social activity. I can't tell you how many times I've been gushing about a book when someone else completely unexpected joins in and we get to share a moment. Books are shared experiences, on a personal and societal level. It is our shared language and experiences that truly connects us as a people and books are merely an extension of that connection. Find someone who shares the same enthusiasm or loathing for a particular book and you'll not only want to read more but you may end up hating the human race a little less too.
5. Fucking Relax, They're Just Books
Let's be real here guys. I love books and reading. I mean enough that I'd like to involve them into a future career, but in all honesty some people take this shit way too seriously. Now I know I just spent a couple paragraphs waxing rhapsodic about universal connectivity of a good book, but not every book is like that. Sometimes a book is just a book. Sometimes a good story doesn't go beyond the boundaries of the page, but that doesn't mean they're worthless for not attempting to achieve more.
Certainly books have near infinite potential for how they can evoke, and invoke emotions but that's not the goal of every author. Sometimes books educate and illuminate, often times they merely entertain and that's more than okay. Don't be afraid or intimidated of something you're reading. Go at your own pace and forget about the number of books read and instead focus on the quality of the experience. If you rush through your list just to do it then you're missing out on a major part of the reading experience.
Overall, reading should be an enjoyable experience (or uncomfortable depending on what you're reading) and if you're not enjoying yourself then maybe it's time to take a long hard look at yourself and figure out why. Maybe try reading in the sun or some shit? I don't know.
Rob Hilferty's Summer Reading List
- This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
- The Redemption Engine by James Sutter
- The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
- King of Chaos by Dave Gross
- An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
- The Gunslinger by Stephen King
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
- No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
- American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
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