Choosing Reads

A few weeks ago, I realized I didn’t want to read, which is a huge red flag for me. I’d had a stretch of books that either weren’t great or required more emotional bandwidth than I had handy. Since “not wanting to read” is pretty antithetical to who I am, it was time to employ emergency measures:

I picked a book to re-read. A book I already knew I loved, and a book I was sure would be exactly what I wanted.

A sad consequence of doing most of my reading on an e-reader is that I don’t re-read as often as I used to, because I can’t wander around my shelves and wait for a moment of yes, THAT’S what I need to read right now in quite the same way. But even scrolling through the e-reader library, I have that aha moment when I pass the right one, and it occurred to me that moment itself is telling.

I know there are people who never re-read, but it mystifies me. For me, choosing a given book to re-read says a lot about my mood, for one thing, and what my brain is working on—particular questions of identity, grappling anew with themes addressed in a work, a reflection of the mood I’m experiencing or feeling the lack of. And re-reading these books is a way of reaffirming myself, what matters to me and who I am, and I find re-reading to be an immensely clarifying, cleansing, and centering experience.

(Also I can skip to my favorite bits.)

In this case, the books I re-read (five novels and three novellas from Meljean Brook’s Guardians series, for the curious) underscored a trend not just in what I’ve been drawn to in re-reading, but also the kinds of books and writers I’ve been reaching for.

My to-read pile of books that are denser, require more time or thought, and especially ones that I know will require more emotional bandwidth (hello The Fifth Season, which I’ve started and is AMAZING and is also still waiting on my nightstand) are piling up. I’m in a state as, I think, many are, where I’m just about at my capacity to deal with all the awfulness going on around me. I have about as much challenge as I can stand, and I want more escapism.

Which is not to say I’m reading books that don’t deal with serious or complicated issues; I have perhaps less patience than ever for books with, for instance, unacknowledged sexism, or books that are fundamentally stupid or depend on me pretending to be. But one reason I realized I’ve been picking up book after book by Martha Wells is that I can trust I won’t be smacked in the face with unanticipated sexism when all I want was a transporting read.

These days the books I’m craving, the books I’m reaching for, aren’t just good, nor are they just thoughtful or inventive, as if those weren’t already rare. They’re comforting. They have optimistic outlooks and happy endings. They contain deep personal growth and beautiful friendships, adventure and exploration of worlds and ideas, and I don’t have to worry about being side-swiped by sexism, racism, queerphobia, ableism. They’re warm, welcoming, fun, and if not precisely light, then at least not grim. They’re hopeful, at a time when I could use more hope.

And they’re hard to find, because that’s a tall order. I’ve developed my own list of authors and books I trust, and no doubt yours won’t look the same, because we all pull different things from stories and need different things at any given time.

But, as I’m not just a reader but also a writer, it seems only logical that I should be writing the kind of stories I want to read, because maybe other people need them, too.

I’ve been vague-tweeting about a Secret Project for a few months now, but I’m nearly ready to share it with you all. So look for more details here next week… =D

Waking Up

Some days it is hard to drag myself into consciousness, let alone out of bed. It doesn’t necessarily matter how much sleep I have, how many things I have to do, or whether I want to do them. On weekends especially, there is only one trick I’ve discovered for getting myself to actually move.

I pick up a book I’ve already read.

Not a new book, or a book I’m currently reading (on those rare occasions I don’t read a book in one sitting), because if I pick up a story I haven’t finished, I’m not going anywhere for a while. I keep my kindle next to my bed, so I can just flip it on and scroll through until my brain stops and goes, “THIS ONE. IT MUST BE THIS ONE.”

And it’s not a complete re-read. Sometimes not even my favorite parts. I click (or flip, if I can heave myself up long enough to take two steps to a bookshelf and grab one of the paperbacks) through, re-read whichever sections my brain seems to want. And by the end of the book, I’m awake and ready to move.

I’ve heard writers — first from Steven Gould at VP, I think — talk about how important it is to take in media and art in order to replenish the well and make our own. Sometimes it’s not even about making art, though. Long before I knew I wanted to be a professional writer, I knew that not reading at least one book each week was linked inextricably for me with getting inexplicably cranky when absolutely nothing was wrong.

My soul craves story; it feeds on them and devours and grows and changes. And there are days when I need just a little boost, a jolt of story straight into my veins to be, to move as myself.