Some of you know that author Cheryl Strayed (Wild) was also the anonymous writer of the "Dear Sugar" column on The Rumpus (She is back doing the Dear Sugar Podcast, without anonymity). In that column, readers would write in with desperate problems and Strayed would answer with long, exquisitely written, comforting answers.
A few months ago, I asked you readers to send me questions. This is the second installment in what will be an occasional column called “Dear Corn Syrup.” All you have to do is send in a question, and I will respond with a long, exquisitely written, comforting answer (but which might be of questionable nutritional value). You will note that the one for this week is book related, which is appropriate. I will answer any kind of question, however, provided that it entertains me. PG-13, please! This is a family show.
Dear Corn Syrup,
How do you pick books to read? Where do you get recommendations? (FYI - I have lists of books to read but rarely consult them, I tend to just read what ever crosses my path.)
Searching For Reading Love
I can’t tell from your question if the books that are crossing your path are fulfilling you. That is the only issue that matters. But since you add in that "FYI" to your question, I’m thinking that one of two things might be happening. There might be a gap between your desire to read good books and your easy breezy approach to finding them. Or, perhaps, you’re thinking that you “should” be reading things that you don’t actually want to read. Either way, I think it’s important to remember that there is no single Right Way to have a reading life.
I’d like to know a bit more about your lists. We certainly live in a list-driven society (e.g. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die), but those lists often box us into a reading plan that doesn’t tap our genuine interests or creativity. On the other hand, lists can tell us something about what we find compelling. They can pave a line of inquiry. They can help us keep track of our own thinking or keep us anchored to a goal. Which is it for you?
If you are happy with stumbling upon books as they cross your path, please unchain yourself from your lists! Be free! Unless you are in school, reading should not be homework.
But if you do want to more deliberately create a working reading list, here are some of the ways that I discover new titles:
1) Blogs! I read several regularly. River City Reading and The Gilmore Guide to Books are current favorites for literary fiction. Brain Pickings is great for discussion about nonfiction or Big Ideas.
2) Book review sites! I like reading The Millions, Shelf Awareness, and I love the Guardian’s book section.
3) Podcasts! In my efforts to become more fit – fittish, perhaps – I spend a lot of time walking and running. Mostly walking, because…pain. I have found that listening to podcasts about reading is my favorite way to make that time pass more pleasantly. My favorites these days are The Readers (two guys talking about bookish things -- they call it “book banter”); Books on the Nightstand (two people who both work in the book industry talking about book issues and making recommendations); and The Book Riot Podcast (two people talking about book news – with a strong focus on reading and technology).
4) Bookstores! They have tables full of books (and, often, cookies!). If I’m honest, I learn the most about what’s available by being out in the world and getting my hands on new books. And don’t forget all the new book smell….
I’d be curious to find out whether “crunchy bacon” would be a good kind of smell to encounter in a bookstore. I'm guessing yes.