With some big academic writing projects of my own completed, I finally have not only the time but the psychological space to read some nonacademic, fiction books—for pleasure.
Now, I read—and enjoy doing so—all the time. As is more than obvious from my site, I perform academic editing on manuscripts from diverse fields. I also have an unhealthy obsession with culture blogs, the New York Times online and in print on Sundays, and magazines of all stripes (we’re talking the New Yorker and Harpers as well as Entertainment Weekly and…Star). These are, with the possible exception of the tabloid, essentially nonfiction publications.
That’s just wild for me. I actually have a hard time with fiction because, as I often opine, reading for my doctoral qualifying exams (several years ago now) basically ruined me. I read for thesis, argument, and juicy quotations to enter into a word-processing program. I always appreciate a good turn of phrase and a well-articulated point, sure, but to sit inside a make-believe story is an altogether different experience.
When I do venture over to the other side of the library, I often resort to frictionless fiction. I’ve been known to reread a certain series of wizardly young adult novels instead of picking up something new and maybe a bit more challenging. In other words, I’ve become sort of a sloth in terms of reading for fun. I just want what’s easy, familiar, and likely to relax (not invigorate) me.
Part of the trick to starting and finishing books read for leisure is simply setting aside the time to read them. Only in extremely fun-deprived situations would I actually schedule time for recreational reading. I usually read in bed, before falling asleep.
However, a trip—also for pleasure—at the end of this week affords me time and space to crack open a new spine or two.
I’m headed to a lake in the Adirondacks, so I may even read at the beach or on a cottage porch in the forest.
These are the books that have been burning holes in my shelves: Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, is a tale imagined around the historical tidbit that Harvard graduated its first Native American student in 1665. I’ve also procured a copy of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Commencement, a novel about four women’s-college graduates navigating life together and apart.
Then there’s Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, a megabestseller about a fateful chance meeting (so far as I can tell, anyway). Even in a group of well-designed books, this one’s cover really stands out. Finally, those of you who know me must have realized I’d get around to Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been sooner or later. Benjamin spins a narrative around the life of Alice Liddell after she served as Lewis Carroll’s muse for the famous Wonderland books.
Having just set these books out for reading, I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment. The next big step becomes deciding which I will read first. It’s still a mystery to me. I’m headed to the East Coast, so maybe Caleb’s Crossing would be appropriate. But I’m also traveling, so maybe I should instead pack one of the paperbacks. I’m between two major graduations in my life; surely Commencement would be personally rewarding. And then there’s the beautiful Little Bee cover and the throngs of other readers who recommend it…
Opinionated readers, what say you? Which book should be my first read?
I’m game for editing on my trip, too. So if you’re harboring an academic project needing fine-tuning, send it my way.
(Are you signed up for TWEED Academic Editing’s occasional email newsletter, Annotations? I think you’ll profit from it.)
I have not read any of these four. Thus, completely unarmed with relevant experience, I’ll wade in and say start with Geraldine Brooks. For me, she’s always an excellent read.
I think you should also consider The Imperfectionists. It’s newsroom setting and population of writers and editors seems tailor made for you. Here’s a snip from the “Publisher’s Weekly” Review:
Come on, sheer inky wretchedness? What more do you need?
Oh, lord, I misused ‘it’s’ on a blog about writing and editing. Maybe IT’S time for me to get offline.