So I’ve been in bookish bliss for a little over a month now. As those who’ve followed along know, I left the corporate job behind on a little over a month ago and have been splitting my time between a beautiful shop offering goods for home & hearth and an adorable indie bookstore. Both shops are incredible but I do of course have a little soft spot for the bookstore. It amazes me every day how long I went without knowing that doing what you love as a job could make you this stupidly happy.
My duties are predictable enough: open and close the store, ring people up for their purchases, take in and account for new inventory, manage special orders, maintain cleanliness and organization of the store, and put together/add to book and product displays. I’m also in charge of the Instagram account, website and changing messages on the sidewalk sign which I enjoy WAY too much to be normal. My recent sidewalk creations include, “Hey, we just met you, and this is crazy, but we sell books here, so read them maybe?” and “You know we’re all about those books, ‘bout those books, no Kindles! (just kidding, those are cool too).” Hand me a piece of chalk and a little autonomy and I’m drunk with dork power.
Then there’s handselling: actually talking about and making book recommendations. I go full nerd when I get to do this. I will admit that I expected to do it more often than I actually do. Perhaps it’s that my shop is located in a very small, quaint community where the folks who come in do so either to browse casually on their afternoon stroll or otherwise come in with a super specific selection already in mind. Maybe that’s a trend in other stores too thanks to the internet and apps like Goodreads that users can now rely on to get all of their bookish recs and reviews. Either way, the opportunity to actually rattle off books I think people would enjoy is one that I’ve had to create through conversation more often than not, which is totally fine. Your girl can talk, no issue there.
You know what I’ve learned though? I haven’t read shit.
How is that possible?? I read an average of 50 books a year. I read more in a month than some people read in 365 days or in some cases, in all of their lives. I read across multiple genres, both in print and on audio, I follow book blogs and listen to bookish podcasts and keep abreast of trends and new releases. So how is it that every damn day, I have to say the words, “You know, I haven’t read that book myself but…?” Tha fuck? Books are my thing! How am I coming up so short all the time?
Turns out working in a bookstore will make you acutely aware not of all that you have read but of eeeeeverything that you haven’t. It’s like living in a physical manifestation of my TBR list – everywhere are piles and shelves of books that I want to read while boxes of new ones keep coming in to make that list longer. Sure, there are tons of things in the store that I have read. Those selections are quiet though, minding their own business and existing silent from their place on the shelves and tables. It’s the ones I haven’t read that seem to waive me down on the regular and mock me to shreds, screaming “Hey, hey you! Hey girl, over here! You ain’t read this, have you! And you call yourself a reader, bruh?”
This really ate at me for a minute there. I pulled up my Goodreads account and perused the list of books I’d read in recent years. What the hell had I been reading? What books had I been shoving my nose into if I was now feeling this inadequate about my reading habits? It became a bit of an obsession for a good 48 hours. My findings:
1. I love old books.
My favorite author is Agatha Christie. If you read even casually then you might just know who that is; the rest of you might be pulling up the Google machine now to find out that Dame Agatha has been dead for many moons and was a British crime writer, commonly hailed as the Queen of Crime. Her work is classic. Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None are books that I still reread from time to time and am blown away anew by that woman’s ability to hit you with the most left-field, outta nowhereist of twists. My goal is to read and own her entire catalog, which is extensive. I try to read anywhere from two to five of those a year. I still have work to do.
I also love classics. Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women – they changed my life. You know what else? There are a TON of classics I haven’t read. Anna Karenina has been making a fool out of me for the better of part of two decades. That shit is my great white whale and I don’t know that I’ll ever vanquish it.
The point here is that because I do spend a formidable amount of time reading old books, I don’t always read new ones that are buzzy and trendy and cool. This doesn’t make me a bad reader – reading classics is never going to be a bad way to spend your reading time. Classics will always be a good default and are after all the blueprint for so much of modern literature.
2. I actually have read a lot of “buzzy” books.
I may have been a little bit hard on myself. When I embarked on my “what the fuck have I been reading” project on Goodreads, I quickly discovered that I’ve done a pretty good job of not only reading some pretty popular/noteworthy/trendy reads, but I’ve managed to do so while reading diversely. I’ve read fantasy and magical realism, essay collections and memoirs, historical fiction and contemporary fiction; I’ve read a lot of books by women and POC, books by authors that identify as LGBT and that feature LGBT characters.
The thing is, as any reader worth their salt will tell you, one’s TBR list is an ever evolving entity. I spend most of my reading life feeling fairly positive what my next read will be then shaking the list up entirely when another interesting book is released and grabs my attention. That’s life in general though: the only constant is change so you may as well embrace the excitement. If you stick to a plan unwaveringly without leaving room for new additions, you may – in fact, WILL- miss out on a lot of great reads and amazing opportunities.
3. There are too many books in the world. I’ll never read them all and that is a-okay.
There is one person that I know of on this earth that may just come close to reading ALL THE BOOKS, and that is “velocireader” Liberty Hardy. Miss Liberty is a contributor at BookRiot.com who singlehandedly compiles the New Release Index available to members of Book Riot Insiders (of which I’m of course a member *pops collar*), is the author of the New Books newsletter and cohost of the Book Riot’s All the Books podcast. You don’t have to know much about Liberty thus to know that this chick reads SO. MANY. BOOKS. I’m talking books – as in plural – a day. HUH!?? I met her at a book convention hosted by Book Riot a couple of years ago in New York and approached her with all the reverence and humility appropriate for meeting the Dalai Lama. I walked slowly and cautiously towards her and I think I even whispered my hello like a fucking creep. She didn’t have security called so it all worked out.
For a while, as I got more into the book blogging community and Book Riot in particular, I compared my own reading habits to Liberty’s – she’d rattle off all the books she’d read, and not in a braggy way so much as just on natural tangents when discussing new releases – and I’d think, “Girl but do you eat!?” I quickly discovered that continuing this comparison would make me want to end it all. I even tweeted her and some of the other ladies of the Book Riot podcasts to tell them that they were exploding my TBR lists straight out of control; Liberty tweeted back at me with a GIF of Beyonce doing a body roll and the caption “sorry not sorry.” It be like that.
The lesson here is that there is no keeping up with the pace of people like Liberty and really – you don’t have to. You don’t even need to read as much as I do, or at all, really, if reading isn’t your bag. If you are a reader, however intense or casual, the focus of your reading should be purpose and not pace. That will look different for each of us – some of us read for knowledge, some for pleasure, some for perspective or an escape (HELLO? Like when your president won’t renounce white supremacy, @#T^@%!) or all of the above. I’m choosing to worry more about the quality of what I’m reading and what it does to enrich my life, then concentrate on that. I don’t want to dwell on all the books I’m not reading and forget to absorb the one in hand.
So there is my little bookish stream of consciousness for the week, a peek into my reading life and confirmation that I do indeed sleep, eat and socialize in between devouring as many books as I can. I may not have all the answers for my customers but I do have plenty of knowledge to draw from. I also have the time, space and opportunity to expand that knowledge, and that, my friends, is why life is so great.
Oh, and because so many have asked recently, here is a snapshot of the last 25 books I read. Have questions? Need a recommendation? Hit me up! And if you're really feeling generous and supportive, follow the bookstore on Instagram! We're @westgrovesouthpark - thanks a bookish bunch!
1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
2. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan
3. The Wild Woman’s Guide to Travelling the World by Kristin Rockaway
4. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helene Petersen
5. The Good People by Hannah Kent (not out yet, I was sent an Advanced Copy, okaaaaay? #feelingmyself)
6. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco
7. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
8. Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
9. Born a Crime: Stores from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
10. This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
11. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
12. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
13. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
14. A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain
15. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
16. So, Anyway… by John Cleese
17. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
18. Turn of Mind by Alicia LaPlante
19. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
20. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
21. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
22. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
23. Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
24. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
25. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Other Fun Stuff:
Think Me: Don't get caught up in what you haven't accomplished yet or dwell on how you could have done things sooner. Just do them now and trust the process.
Read Me: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helene Petersen. I don't know how to sell this enough: it's an incredibly entertaining analysis of several polarizing female figures, women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Serena Williams, Megan Mccarthy. It takes a look at the cultural phenomena that each of these women represents - love them or hate them - and dives into why they've each been deemed "too" much of a certain quality - too pregnant, too shrill, too queer, too slutty, etc. It isn't one giant defense of each of the women discussed - it's quite nuanced and honest and comprehensive in it's observations of the ways in which these women have made a name for themselves. It seeks to understand how they're affected by misogyny, sexism and where each operate within a feminist space. It's SO FUCKING GOOD. Read this now!
Drink Me: Rose Milk Tea from 85 Degrees Bakery. Holy florals! This stuff is addicting - delicately flavored, sweet perfection.
Hear Me: Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato. Alright, sometimes I like pop and I don't care how you feel about that. Ladies - listen to this song and tell me you don't feel like a bad bitch after, especially if you watch the FIIIIIIRE choreography done to this song at Millenium Dance by the great Jojo Gomez. See it here - I've watched it about a thousand times and may or may not have mimicked the moves in my bedroom.