The 6 Books that Found Me in 2011
After reading Heidi Ruby Miller's blog about how her reading groove came back this year I got to thinking about my own reading year. Heidi mentioned that learning the craft of writing and critique had left her struggling to enjoy books and the same had happened to me after the first few years of publishing took their toll. This is one of the risks of making a loved hobby into a job. I spent so much time on the press editing and reading manuscripts that there wasn't time left just to enjoy a book. Sure I considered the books we put out to be great reads but when you're trying to catch typos and layout flubs you can't relax and just enjoy reading.
However, like Heidi, this year surprised me with some unexpectedly good reading. Although I didn't read many books outside of RDSP releases and submissions, the ones I did read were very satisfying. I read six novels and all of them were pretty much by accident. I've always been a sort of accidental reader. That is, I like to just pick something up and read it. I avidly avoid back cover text, I want to come to the book cold. Since I'm a compulsive book finisher this has gotten me into some less-than-ideal situations but has also often resulted in some real gems.
Because we were open to submissions this year I didn't expect to read anything else. The submissions were surprisingly good but there's no pleasure in reading something when you know you are probably going to have to reject it. But, at the end of the day, when I just couldn't focus on the press any more, I found myself grabbing a book, usually from a lost and found pile, novels that people had left behind on the subway or on public buses. Ordinarily I would not recommend this as a way to find your next read but it worked like a charm for me! I enjoyed every page. It may not have been that the books were so good but that it was such a carefree way to read. None of the books were horror or fringe literature like RDSP publishes. There was only one small press book in the bunch. I even read, and enjoyed <gasp>a mass market thriller. These are the books that found their way to me this year:
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White
Pompeii by Robert Harris
Little Bee by Chris Cleve
Ambasadora by Heidi Ruby Miller
Final Theory by Mark Alpert
Despite all my railing about big New York publishers and the state of the industry these books got me through the days. I've had my struggles to find anything of interest at all in chain bookstores and the 'new releases' section of the library but these books just appeared. The only one that didn't come from the lost and find is Ambasadora which I stole, like many other books, from my husband, while he was in the middle of reading it no less! I think one of the key reasons I enjoyed these books so much is because they were outside of what I usually read. The first three were all historical with the first being literary, the second a mystery and the third a thriller. Little Bee is a straight up literary novel but is firmly grounded in the history of colonization and written by a journalist so was a bit like history coming to the present. I have not read much historical fiction but find that I really enjoy learning about cultures and the past via fiction. Ambasadora is set in the future so didn't have any history lessons but was a completely new genre to me, Sci-fi Romance. I have read some Science Fiction and a few Romances but was energized by the potential of melding the two. The Final Theory is a pretty standard thriller but the author has a strong background in physics (his job with Scientific American is to translate science for the non-scientists) and, again, I found it fascinating to learn about a subject that I know very little about through a well-told story.
So, I think the key for me this year was reading outside my normal realm. Or maybe it was just dumb luck. But it could be that I've spent so much time championing the lesser-known, the fringe fiction, the over-looked that I lost sight of the simple pleasure that escaping into a book can bring.
In 2012 I challenge you to read a book outside your usual suspects and see what happens!