“She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
The books we hold dear shape and define us. They provide us with different perspectives and put events in our lives into a larger context. Some books are like acquaintances, and the moments we share add an almost imperceptible layer to who we are. Other books are dear friends we visit time and time again. These books shape us in a deeper and more sustained way. Still other books are great social engineers, introducing us to people whose response to the book was similar to or vastly different from our own.
The books on my bookshelf tell a story about who I am or, in some cases, who I want to be. I read a lot of non-fiction, and am especially drawn to biographies and travelogues. I have an almost embarrassing number of cookbooks, but tend to return to the same recipes time and time again. I used to devour business books, and I occasionally go through phases of reading books about spirituality and self-improvement.
As for fiction, I read almost anything from literary fiction to classics to commercial fiction. Beautiful prose and challenging themes share the same shelf with a light and breezy escape. Dotted along the landscape are occasional science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels, but they are rare. I abhor romance novels, but always appreciate a good love story. I don’t believe I will ever be too old for young adult and middle grade novels. And I always have room on my bookshelves for a book written by a friend!
My library is always evolving, but that evolution has not always been intentional. Some books have been lost along the way, other have been kept for no good reason at all, and still others have been borrowed but never acquired. I want my library to be a more intentional reflection of me and, perhaps even more importantly, I want to be able to remember what it was about a particular book that I enjoyed so much as to make space for it in my apartment. I have a shocking number of books that I remember with fondness, but haven’t the slightest idea what they are about or why I have such fond memories. And, since I love talking about books, this puts me at a distinct disadvantage.
It is for all of these reasons that I have set a challenge for 2018 to read at least 30 books and to write a thoughtful review of every book I read. Writing the review will not only help me put into words what I liked or disliked about a particular book, but it will spark more conversations about everything related to books, reading and writing. It will allow me to curate my collection more intentionally, and It will help me become a better writer.
30 Books to Read and Review in 2018
This year, I decided to make a list of books to read. If one of my goals is to be more intentional about my library, I need to be more intentional about my reading. This was no easy task. As of this writing, I have more than 200 books on my Want to Read list on Riffle.
The final list of thirty includes recommendations from friends, a few books that have been languishing on the pile of books next to my bed, and a few books that will be released in 2018. The list may change as the year progresses, but any such changes will be deliberate. Books I already own will be kept only if they garner at least a three-star review. The rest of the books will be borrowed from my local library. Only those that garner a four- or five-star review will be added to my collection. In this way, I hope to be a more thoughtful curator.
My Flawed but Personal Five-Star Rating System
Our relationship with books is extremely personal. I have despised books that friends have fallen in love with, and adored books that friends have abandoned in frustration. But I have also had the experience of reading a book that I loved two years ago, and that now leaves me uninspired. Obviously the book didn’t change, but as we change and grow, our relationship with our books evolves as well. So, my ratings are really just a snapshot of my relationship with a particular book at a particular moment in time.
★ Single-star reviews are reserved for books I abandon. It took me 40 years before I allowed myself to abandon a book. If I am intrigued by neither the story nor the characters after reading 50 to 100 pages, I abandon it. Beautiful writing, alone, is not enough to keep my interest.
★★ A two-star review indicates that I finished the book, but don’t feel the need to keep it on my bookshelves. Sometimes I regret reading the entire book and wish I had abandoned it. Other times I have no complaints, but just didn’t feel a connection to the story or characters.
★★★ A three-star review means that I enjoyed the book and, if I already own it, it stays on my bookshelves. If I borrowed it from the library, chances are I won’t buy it at the bookstore, but I probably will recommend it to friends. Most books fit into this category.
★★★★ A four-star review signifies something special about the book, usually extraordinary characters or a truly wonderful story. In my experience, not all great books are accompanied by great writing. While I appreciate beautiful writing, it is never sufficient for a four-star review.
★★★★★ A five-star review means that you need to read this book. Immediately. And then you need to come to my house so we can cook a wonderful dinner and talk all about it. At length.