Beginning a new year: looking back, moving forward

Happy 2015! It’s January 14, halfway through the month, and I’m starting to feel like I’m recovering from the chaotic extravaganza of the holidays, starting to feel like myself again.

Rather than posting a half-thought-out end-of-year favorites’ recap, or a half-planned resolutions list, (both of which I did write, but which felt incomplete), this year I’ve given myself time to mull over what last year meant to me, and what I hope next year may become.

Here are my thoughts. In 2015, I want to focus on quality, rather than on quantity. The last couple of years have been a reading frenzy for me…first, I discovered the joys of Goodreads, NetGalley, and blogging. Then, as I tend to do, I threw myself passionately into organizing, cataloging, and reviewing what I read, and more than anything, reading as much as possible. For awhile, I had a goal of reading 100 pages daily. I came to realize that this goal was not necessarily, for me, a good thing. As someone who is adept at becoming obsessive about any kind of work or study, I have a tendency to create work out of what is initially pure pleasure. So, when I found myself feeling anxiety over not reaching my daily goal, which is, to be honest, not the easiest thing when one has a life to lead as well, I started to reassess my reading.

I initially considered my reading and reviewing as a possible pathway toward a career in publishing.  But what I actually experienced was that my reading goals meant that I was reading more books than I could properly review. Before I had reviewed one book to my satisfaction, I was halfway into another, and the impact of the first was fading from my mind. I also realized that my habit of reading multiple books at once meant that sometimes, especially when the books were in the same (thriller) genre, the lines between characters could get a little blurred.

So, what I realized was that I wanted to slow down and enjoy my reading. Making reading into what felt essentially like an unpaid job robbed a lot of the joy out of it.  The more I wrote reviews, the more I felt conflicted about writing them. On the one hand, I very much enjoy the purely analytical element of reviewing. I also enjoy sharing recommendations with other readers.  But when I review for a publisher, often, my honest review includes a lot of negatives. And I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of perhaps discouraging a newly published author, one who may have potential, but who is still honing their skills.

Ultimately, I have great admiration for anyone who has the inspiration, the discipline, and the courage, to write and publish a novel.  I have written my entire life, and the first career goal I remember having was to be a writer “when I grew up.”  So, where does this leave me in the present day?

In 2015, I want to read in a more focused, more internally-motivated manner. I’ve been surprising myself with how very much I am enjoying non-fiction, including such books as The Discovery of France, by Graham Robb, and Surpassing the Love of Men, by Lillian Faderman.  Reading social and cultural histories seems much more meaningful to me as a woman in my late 30’s, than it did when I was studying history in primary school. I also want to allow myself to read less, to slow down, and to allow myself more time to think about what I’m reading.

One of my main goals in 2015 is to finally, finally, write a novel in a disciplined manner, rather than having scraps of poetry, notebooks with short stories, or 20 pages of several different novels saved in obscure locations on the computer.  To accomplish this, one of the main things I think I need to do is to take a break from constantly reading other people’s fiction, so that I can focus on creating my own.

In 2015, I will continue to read, and to review, when I feel inspired, or want to record impressions about literature that excites me.  I will continue to share recommendations with online friends, which is one of the things I have enjoyed the most about Goodreads. But I will also remind myself to slow down, to enjoy.

Books began as one of my greatest pleasures. Before I could properly speak English, I ran about chewing on their cardboard corners, and reading them to myself in my own private language before my parents woke up in the morning. I’ve been blessed to have been read to by enthusiastic parents, to have been encouraged to read by librarians, and encouraged to write by supportive teachers.  Now, as an adult, I want to continue to allow myself to find pleasure and passion in reading. And this year my goal is to write.


Weekend thoughts

So recently, I’ve been wondering about how reading a hard copy of a book vs. listening to the audio version affects our enjoyment, experience of, and final opinion of, the story. I’ve noticed that reading the book takes more actual concentration on my part, so if I’m really tired, listening to the audio is definitely easier. Imagining the book while listening to it takes little effort, while imagining a book from reading the written word does take some level of focus or conscious creative work on my part.
However, with that said, I am a pretty fast reader, and I feel that if I do have enough mental energy to read, I feel like I am able to become more fully engrossed in the world of the book when I am reading it myself, rather than listening to it. I think part of this is the speed at which I read. I often find it frustrating, when listening to audio books, in that the narrator seems to be going just a bit too slow. I’ve tried speeding up the audio, but listening to a jerky, chipmunk version of the story definitely kills the mood.  Also, much of the time, I find that the narrator’s voice is jarring in a way that serves to remove me from the immediacy of the story itself. Much of the time, I find myself analyzing how the narrator is interpreting the story, and wondering at some of the ways in which he or she says things. Often, I think that if I had read a certain sentence of dialogue in my head, I would have given it a different intonation than the narrator chooses. So this affects my interaction with the story in two ways. First, it sets to distance me from the immediacy of the story itself, because I am in an analytical frame of mind. And secondly, I am experiencing the characters and tone of the story in the way in which the audio narrator does, rather than in the way I myself would have if I was reading the book alone.
Third, when listening to an audio version of a book, I am almost always multitasking. I listen while driving, or while working out. On the other hand, I almost always read books when I am alone, in a quiet place. My attention at that time is focused almost exclusively on the world of the novel.
All of these things lead to me having a more intense, immediate, and personal experience of the story when I am reading it.
However, there are a few times when I feel that experiencing books in their audio form is preferable to reading them myself. As mentioned above, one of these times is when I am simply too tired to read, but would like the escape and pleasure of being in the world of the book. At those times, I can lay in bed or on the sofa, relax, shut my eyes, and just listen.
Secondly, there are some books whose narrators are just fabulous, talented at accents and voices, and interpretations of humor and emotion. At these times, I feel that the narrators bring the story to life in an amazing way. Two such examples are Heather O’Neill, who narrated the audio version of The Likeness, by Tana French, and Steven Crossley, who has narrated When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson. In these examples, I enjoyed the books more because I listened to them, rather than reading them myself.
The third time in which I think audio may be preferable to the written word, is when the book I am reading is so dense, “literary,” or factual, that I would find it prohibitively difficult to read myself. Because I read primarily for pleasure, I often lack the patience to sit down with a large nonfiction volume, or even a fictional narrative that is rather dense. Listening to these types of works means that I can experience them while doing other things, thus avoiding the impatience I would feel if I was forcing myself to sit still and focus on them alone. An example of this is The Likeness. Although Tana French is one of my favorite authors, her novels are not what I would call “light” reads. While I struggle to read them myself (which I did with her first novel, In the Woods) I appreciate them immensely when I am listening to them being performed by a talented narrator.
As a final thought, this year I have listened to mainly thrillers and suspense novels on audio. With the exception of The Likeness and When Will There Be Good News?, I find that the audio version disconnects me just enough from the book to diminish my enjoyment of it. I wonder if I would find listening to humor, fantasy, or historical fiction a more successful experience. I also wonder if some of the thrillers that I listened to and gave mediocre reviews of would have rated higher if I had read them myself.
What are your thoughts on audio vs. hard copy books? Which do you prefer, and why?
Ultimately, I am extremely glad to have both options in which to experience a book. Story, in all its forms, adds immeasurable enjoyment to my life.



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