I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had the time or more due to the slump I was in earlier this year, but I’ve started to get pretty meta in thinking about my reading—what tends to really work for me versus what ends up just “good”? Thankfully, I had a bit of a perfect storm over the last week that helped me make some distinctions.
I went from an incredibly engaging read of Helen Philipp’s The Beautiful Bureaucrat to another win with Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis while also working on Socratic Salon discussions for several books I absolutely loved. The Beautiful Bureaucrat had me questioning reality throughout, while also constantly playing with the mechanics of language. Fifteen Dogs was playful and ridiculously creative, but kept me thinking with its philosophical questions. Many similar things can be said of books like The Shore and All the Birds, Singing, which I’ve been digging into with my Socratic Salon counterparts over the past few weeks.
At the same time I was also reading Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie, which appealed to me for several reasons—the Prohibition-era story of a girl with serious moxie helping people who cross her path. While I enjoyed Mazie’s story, I found that it very quickly fell into the “good” category and lacked the spark of the other books I was pouring through.
But why? Though Saint Mazie is an epistolary novel, the structure is rather straightforward and there isn’t much to dig into or question. The characters are interesting and the writing is quite good, but when reading it alongside the others there was a clear distinction. In the end, I think I need a novel to have deeper elements I can turn over or incredible writing to cross over into that “love” territory. I even came across a line in Fifteen Dogs that summed up what really appeals to me.
“These works were, it seemed, created to evade understanding while inviting it.”
I’ve long known that I read for style, so this isn’t really a surprise. But knowing how narrow the window of that reading preference is, it feels particularly hard to pick out books based solely on their summaries. Looking for new books by searching through comparative titles seems to be the best strategy, but it’s definitely hard to nail down how appealing a book is when I care much more about the feel of a book than its plot or characters.
Have you narrowed down what your specific reading preferences are? How did you figure out what you really want in a book? Has this helped you pick out books that you love or made it a little trickier?