I try to balance reading fiction and non-fiction, which for a long time gave me the false impression that I am a well-rounded reader. It recently became apparent to me, however, that I have not, in fact, exposed myself to a variety of genres and ideas. This conclusion came to me as I made my way through business journalist Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats, a 2012 examination of the rise of the new global super-rich and the fall of everyone else. This book was in such contrast to the non-fiction I typically read — self-help, spirituality and psychology — that it threw into light how narrowly focused my taste in non-fiction is. (Thanks to my girlfriends’ book group, which primarily reads novels and short stories, I am exposed to a wider variety of fiction).
Reading something new definitely had its perks. I learned all sorts of new words and phrases (plutocrat and oligarchs and BRICs and The Middle Kingdom), statistics (the top .01% of earners in the U.S. make an average annual income of 23,846,950, whereas the bottom 90% make an average income of $29,840 — youch!) and concepts (super-wealth used to come primarily from family inheritance/land renting; now… not so much… “In 1916 the richest 1 percent of Americans received only one-fifth of their income from paid work; in 2004, that figure had risen threefold, to 60 percent”) that I’m simply not exposed to in my day-to-day. Even more importantly, I was challenged into new ways of thinking… or, at the least, to question some of my taken-for-granted assumptions. Read more
Often, the books I choose to write about are the ones that make me think, the ones with nuggets of wisdom that I want to process more deeply (which writing helps me to do), the ones with beautiful sentences that I want to play with — to hold up to the light to get a better look — or the ones that resonate with my life in a personal way that feels worth commenting about. These are the books that expand my worldview, promote self-awareness and growth, and add beauty to my days, and I write about these books because I want to distill the ways in which they enhance my life.
But there’s also something to be said for the books that aren’t especially deep or moving (or maybe they are) but are just plain fun to read, the books that I can’t put down (and that I am unable to stop thinking about when work, meals, social obligations, and civility to the people with whom I live demand that I put them down), the books with characters and plot that induce an almost tangible pleasure. These are the ice-cream cones of literature: yummy, addictive, and easily absorbed.
After reading The Goldfinch (which was so, so, so, so good, but also emotionally draining and exhausting to digest — to continue the culinary metaphor, we’ll call it kale), I especially craved readable ice cream. And so I’ve been on Read For Pure Pleasure (R.F.P.P.) kick.
- I’m listening to the Harry Potter series on CD during my commute. What a treat to revisit these books that are so inextricably woven together with my young adulthood. Because I’m not typically a “re-reader” and therefore haven’t read and reread this series in the decade and a half since I first encountered them, the stories feel largely new to me. There are loads of details that I had forgotten, making them freshly exciting and full of surprises.
- My return to Harry Potter reminded me how much I enjoy Young Adult lit and so I decided to give The Hunger Games a try. While “easy to digest and pleasurable to read” isn’t the first phrase I would assign to my experience of reading this dark series (and in fact, they, combined with the hideous election we’ve just endured, have gotten me concerned that the apocalypse is imminent) they have certainly been satisfying to work my way through, with their captivating story lines, noble characters, and surprising plot twists.
- Liane Moriarty is one of my go-to R.F.P.P. authors. I just finished The Hypnotist’s Love Story, which I enjoyed as much as I did The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies. Knowing that I still haven’t read several of Moriarty’s books is a very comforting feeling. It makes me think of Gretchen Rubin, happiness research and writer’s, secret of adulthood: Keep an empty shelf. She writes about how an empty shelf gives her the feeling that she has room to expand. Keeping a Moriarty (or Quindlen, or Franzen) book unread gives me the feeling that I have pleasure waiting for me, right at my fingertips.