Recently, I have received a spate of book review requests. The fact is that I don’t write book reviews any more, not in a professional sense. I’m not sure I ever did. For a year or two I wrote a book review column for the science fiction magazine InterGalactic Medicine Show, “The Science of Wonder,” where I’d review two books each month. It was fun while it lasted, but I tired of it, mainly because I felt some responsibility to read and review at least some of the books publishers and publicists sent me, as opposed to finding books on my own that interested me and reviewing those instead.
The truth is, I’m not one to go out seeking opinions on what I should read next. If I am being perfectly honest, I cringe a little inside when a friend utters the words, “Hey, you should read…” I am, of course, grateful to my friends’ for their suggestions, but the reality is that I almost never end up reading what they suggest. There are two reasons for this:
- I can’t read a book that doesn’t fit my present mood. The butterfly effect of reading is my primary guide for what I read next, and I trust that instinct because it has served me so well over the last quarter century. Of course, if I had to read a book for a job, or for class, I could force myself to do it, but I am no longer in a position where I have to read a book for any reason other than it catches my interest. The mood I am in is much more likely to be served by the butterfly effect of reading, than by a recommendation from someone else.
- I maintain a list of books I intend to read based on the butterfly effect I described above. This is usually anywhere from 10-20 books long (1-3 months worth of books), and acts as a kind of safeguard; if the butterfly effect of reading directs me to a book that doesn’t work out for me, I don’t waste time flailing about. Instead, I move to the next book on the list. This means, however, that if I am interested in a book that a friend recommends, it might take me a while before I get to it. Indeed, there has been at least one book that a friend recommended to me, which I finally read twenty years after they recommended it.
I’ve learned these lessons over and over again. Most recently, for instance, a friend recommended Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. The description sounded fascinating and so I picked up the book, but didn’t make it more than a few pages in before I gave up. It had nothing to do with the story or the writing. It just wasn’t what I was in the mood to read. What did I read instead? The butterfly effect of reading led me to United States: Essays, 1952-1992 by Gore Vidal. See what I mean?
All of this is preface to explain why I no longer accept requests to review books. I just don’t want to interrupt the natural flow of my reading with something arbitrary that doesn’t fit into what interests me at the moment. 99.9% of the book review requests I get are for fiction, mostly science fiction or fantasy, and these days, science fiction and fantasy makes up less than 1% of the books that I read.
For many of the books that I do read, I sometimes write reviews or at least post notes about the books here on the blog. But these are books that have come my way via the butterfly effect of reading.
I sometimes wish I could take all of the recommendations my friends provide and read them right away. I’m certain the ability to do so would improve my character and make me a better person. Alas, when it comes to reading, I am flawed in this regard: I don’t want to change. The butterfly effect of reading is a like a drug and I am at its mercy.
Thank goodness for that!
Written on May 9, 2022.
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