Monday, May 11, 2015

Curating your reading year like a mix tape

I wrote this piece to submit to a (different) blog and figured I'd post it here as well. 1 of 2

Mix tape wisdom says not to repeat artists on a single tape. You may love Dave Matthews Band (a dated example, like the concept of a mix tape itself), but the idea is to create a collection of music that is varied and broad. You choose one DMB song, and then instead of another one, or even something similar, you go to the other end of your taste spectrum (Madonna, perhaps?) and then keep ping-ponging around, hopefully not back and forth, but to varied points on a circle.

I try to structure my reading year in the same way, in that I try to restrict myself to one book per author per year. There are authors I love with prolific lists of works, and limiting myself to one annually ensures that I will have something new to read by them for a long time, even if they stop writing. As for authors I love who’ve only written one book (or whose other books don’t interest me), it angers me less that I can’t read another of their books because I’d have to wait at least a year anyway, and perhaps by that time they’ll have written something new (still waiting, Erin Morgenstern).

It can be hard to resist sticking with an author especially when you’ve discovered someone new. Last year, I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, my first Murakami, and I loved it. I was tempted to grab another, but then I realized I can add him to my list of authors I read once a year, and that sated me. Plus, remaining in Murakami’s strange world seemed like it could have permanent, adverse effects. I chose instead to glide gently into Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, keeping Japan and war and feelings of inadequacy and a small amount of mysticism but leaving the absurd (wow, those two books are a lot more alike than I realized).

I’ll make an exception for series. After all, you wouldn’t break up a symphony, would you? Actually, I would, and have, so this isn’t a great analogy. I made this change after reading the His Dark Materials series, or rather, two thirds of it. I read The Golden Compass and then a year later The Subtle Knife, but never made it to The Amber Spyglass and now I never will (which is a shame because I like its title the best of the three). Even though installments in a series are meant to be read years apart since that’s how they’re published, why wouldn’t you read them back-to-back if you could?

This whole planning-my-reading-year-like-a-mix-tape thing is all in retrospect. There’s very rarely any advance thought given to it (except for the anticipation of reading the next Sarah Vowell book on my list when the new year rolls around). In the post-Christmas lull of holiday week I reflect on the reading year that was, assess which goals I achieved -- including my Goodreads reading challenge -- and examine the variety (or lack thereof) of my selections as I get ready to create another mix tape.

How do you choose what book to read next, and what do you do to ensure diversity in your reading choices?