As of tomorrow (March 27, 2014), it will be exactly one year since I started writing this blog. Weird to contemplate, actually, because it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Then again, it also doesn’t feel like I’ve been working here at the Booksmith for more than eighteen months, so, there you go. Time flies.
In the past 364 days, I’ve discussed 34 books with everyone out there (plus the two additional titles reviewed by Hunter and Mike – thanks, guys!). Some of those were brand-new, hot off the presses; others were a little older, whether by weeks or months or even years, in some cases. On a rare few occasions, I took a sneak peek at titles that hadn’t yet come out – the miracle of the ARC, which always gives me an illicit thrill, getting to read something before everyone else. All of them – old, new and in between – absolutely spectacular. But then again, anytime someone actually pays me to read great books and then blather on about how amazing they are (with free license to geek out and squee as needed) is a good day’s work.
Not that it isn’t nerve-wracking, trying to distill a sometimes lengthy and usually complex book down to its essence … particularly when the author is stopping by for a signing. The worst (or best, depending on your point of view) example of that particular hurdle was during our event with James McBride last August for The Good Lord Bird: Jake actually had me print out a copy of that week’s review for him. Luckily, he was unbelievably nice, and oh-so-politely ignored my bout of hyperventilation. Once I got past that, we had a fantastic chat about my take on the novel: he found it interesting that I zeroed in on the edge of discomfort hidden in all the funny bits, but I guess that’s just my weird sense of humor, and also explains why I cringe every time Arrested Development comes on. So. Much. AWKWARD.
Potentially having to face the author afterwards isn’t even the toughest part of writing a review, or of streamlining my thoughts and responses to a book into something both coherent and concise. Even getting started can be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to pass judgment on something you could never hope to equal. To me, the most intimidating thing in the world is a blank Word document: all that clean, white emptiness on the screen, berating me for not being clever enough to fill it up with effortless, fluid brilliance. Such a formal space, and for whatever reason, I feel as though everything I type up has to be perfect from the very beginning: complete sentences, organized thoughts, with a proper beginning, middle, and end. Much easier to just dash ideas out by hand first, and then rewrite and revise from there, once I have somewhere to start. So, instead, I read with a pen and legal pad at my elbow, jotting done anything that pops into my head as I go – which means that I read a lot more deeply and thoroughly than I otherwise would. Without something to slow me down, I speed-read, just blasting through the text, and often miss crucial stuff in my eagerness to find out what happens next. It’s almost … meditative, working through a book while taking notes and documenting my reactions, and it certainly helps me pick out the important bits from everything else swimming around in my brain.
I mentioned in my inaugural post that my reading taste was varied and eclectic, but I prefer to think of that as an asset rather than a liability, giving everyone a representative sample of all of the amazing stuff on our shelves. Of course, we’re such a weird little joint anyway, since every book in the store is signed, and as a result, we have an unusually mixed selection. Of the thirty-four books I reviewed for you in the past year, nine have been non-fiction, and many of the others have been historical fiction, often heavily rooted in and inspired by fact. The novels have featured an astonishingly wide variety of character, setting and plot, all magnificent, with plenty of genre-defying mish-mash that doesn’t fit neatly into any one particular category. There’s been both art and science, tragedy and joy, humor and grief. There have been books that challenged me, confused me, or enraged me – sometimes all at once. Others have left me in tears, or fits of the giggles, or both, and still more titles completely overwhelmed me with warm fuzzy feelings.
Writing these reviews requires me to walk a tantalizingly fine line, somehow trying to balance “Oooh, this tidbit is fantastic, I have to share it with everyone” against “Oh, wait, darn it, mustn’t ruin the book!” I do my best to avoid spoilers, but it’s unbelievably tough on occasion to restrain myself, and keep from blurting out all of the good stuff. This is especially true when the parts that make a book so amazing are also what makes it unique, and therefore must be left for the reader to discover on their own. Boo. Hiss. Still, there are worse problems to have than the need for that particular type of self-censoring: too often a really outstanding book leaves me at a loss for words, and it’s a struggle to find a way to adequately describe it. I’ll take word vomit of awesome any day.
Okay, enough crazy rambling. It’s been an eventful year, from hosting Khaled Hosseini in June, to being snowed in at the store overnight in January and almost having to cancel our event with James Scott as a result, with tons of amazing authors, and an overabundance of fantastic reads. So, here’s to another one, hopefully just as full of great books as the last!