What Should I Read

In my last post, as summer began, I was thinking about “swimming in literary water” and how I decide what to read. As promised, this stayed on my mind through the summer, particularly in reference to my ever-growing “recommendations tab on Wunderlist, which had topped 20.

Seven Day Book Challenge

Sidenote: If you’ve sat next to me on a bus at an AISL conference, it’s likely that at least two of the following statements will be true.
-We talked about books.
-It somehow came up that I am a bit obsessed with to-do lists, keeping them fastidiously, mainly using the Wunderlist app but relying on Post-its with surprising frequency. (Wunderlist and Post-its execs, if you’re reading, consider me your unofficial spokesperson.)
-I wrote down your book, movie, or podcast recommendation to return to at a later time.

What I see everyday on my phone

It seemed like the time was right for me to begin to tackle that list. This summer, I read 20 books, drawing heavily from that tab, and gave them an average Goodreads rating of 3.6. My overall rating for books since I began keeping track is 3.39, and there was both a higher percentage of 2 ratings (6) and 5 ratings (8) than usual. High five to my past self, because I added 3 books to my “favorites” shelf, an exclusive club only reached by 32 books over the past 14 years. High five, past me! You did a good job recommending books to your future self!

Now let’s get to recommending books to others. Do any of these sound familiar?
-My friend’s daughter is turning 10. What book should I send her as a present?
-What book should my husband bring to the beach?
-You’re a librarian, so tell me what my book club should read next.

I’m comfortable offering suggestions, but expertise in a subject and personal preference are not the same. Too often, I’m asked what I’ve enjoyed reading recently, and that’s not necessarily what I’d recommend to others without knowing their own reading habits. I happen to know I love books in the 300s relating to education, class, and gender, but I don’t usually seek out the true crime or legal histories located nearby. Basically, I’m the first one to offer personalized recommendations as a friend, and as a librarian I’m always eager to create displays and booktalks for my students; I’m more hesitant when the boundaries are blurred. I don’t feel like my taste is worth more simply because I’m a librarian. I advocate no-guilt reading, and I tend to stop people who apologize for loving John Grisham or Elin Hilderbrand. I want more of us to enjoy reading and to make time for it, and these authors are incredible at creating compelling characters and plots.

One of the fun parts of my job is supervising our advanced Capstone research students. Already on the first day back this week, I had a thoughtful conversation with one of them who is exploring standardized frameworks for listening to and discussing popular music. It centered on familiarity and vocabulary. I do have more of an academic vocabulary for books than for music, both from my library degree and my writing degree. Perhaps I can explain more easily how something occurs in a book or why the author might have made specific choices, but that’s more academic than personal. My taste is my taste. As one of the many hats we wear, I can see our personal reading selves and our professional ones.

Social media as a platorm for sharing our reading selves

As I’ve watched the Seven Day Book Challenge fly around Facebook, I’ve peeped on others’ choices while not participating myself. I want more than the covers of the books we read; I love knowing why a particular title stood out or what resonated with a reader about a specific plot. Maybe this is the reverse-augmented reality potential of social media. What amazing fodder for valuable face-to-face conversations about books! So my Book Challenge for you is to ask someone what they’ve read recently that really resonated with them, and let’s continue to share our love of books.

5 thoughts on “What Should I Read

  1. Christina,

    This is SOOO true! Much of what I’m reading is related to my personal hobbies or preferences and not something that would be of interest to general audiences. I usually deflect away from questions about what I’m currently reading (or choose the most generic / popular thing I’ve read in the past 6th months) and turn it into a reader’s advisory interview. Instead I ask them what THEY are in the mood for, what was the last book they read that they found to be a page-turner, or what their book club has really enjoyed in the past — because those answers can fall all over the place but almost never align with what I’m personally reading. Then I take my cues from their answers and recommend the next romance, mystery, historical fiction, dystopian, biography, etc. that will be the perfect book for THAT person… in short, just like with collection development, it’s not about me!

    • Thank you! As we’ve all discussed many times, it’s always helpful when we can feel like our experiences, which might be unique in our schools, are normal for librarians. Your responses are perfect!

  2. Face to face book talks are far more satisfying than reading a snippet on twitter. Social media has perfected the sound bite, but I do crave more conversations about books. I love your reasoning on book suggestions. Sometimes the request for a good book to read does need more information, and personal and professional suggestions can be very different. Thanks for the thought provoking words.

    • I’ve just been having some interesting conversations about the usefulness of Twitter for short immediate bursts of information compared with longer responses. Each can have its place; I know I find the latter more satisfying!

  3. I thought I was alone! I’m swimming in a sea where it feels like everything we read *should* be some form of professional development, self-improvement or social awareness and . . . I just like to read. I read those things too, but when it comes to my own free time, I like to be truly free, so I rarely discuss what I am reading personally for just plain pleasure, unless I feel an altruistic need to share the book with a like-minded person for whom it would be a similar delight. I don’t expect my tastes will appeal to everyone, and I take real pride in trying to help a reader choose just the right book for him or herself, so imposing my own taste feels intrusive.

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