Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon: Reading obligations

Do you have reading obligations? For most people, the last time they were obliged to read a book was when they were in school. And for many years this was the case for me. I was finished with 120 or so years of schooling (okay, maybe not that many but by the end of it, it certainly felt that way) and I could read what I wanted, when I wanted. But being a lifelong reader, it wasn't as liberating as it sounds. Because I read all the time whether in or out of school and I had generally enjoyed the books I read for school anyway.

I'm not back in school now but my life has changed enough that I now have reading obligations again. I accept books for review and in return I agree to write reviews. That makes them an obligation on my part. Of course, I only request or accept books that I think I will truly enjoy because spending my reading time with something that makes me want to poke myself in the eye with a pointy stick is an unhappy experience. It is unhappy for me and ultimately unhappy for whomever wanted my review as no one loves a negative review. At the moment, I have a large pile of books I need to read and review but I am getting through them slowly and without pulling an all-nighter.

But the review books are a choice I made and one I can back off of at will. Right now, though, I also have a standing obligation for a panel I am on that will be determining the books which will receive our endorsement for National Reading Group Month. Since sometime last month, I have been working my way through the dozen or so books submitted for consideration. I started with the books that were personally most appealing to me based on the jacket copy. Then I worked my way into the books that sounded fine but didn't really call to me. Now I'm at the tail end of the pile and reading those books which I never would have picked up on my own at the bookstore (or having picked them up, would have quickly put them back down). This order is probably not the best as I am starting to get a bit resentful that I have had so little personal pleasure reading during the past two months. Nevermind that quite a few of these would have been books I would have read for pleasure had they not been sent to me for this panel.

I think I am a bit worn out with the obligation of reading and need the chance to wander aimlessly amongst my tbr shelves, pulling a book off, perhaps simply chosen by serendipity, and settle in to read something that I can review or not as I see fit (and I do review everything for my own edification anyway, so...), that might be a terrible choice for a reading group, that might be completely and blissfully superficial, that will be pure pleasure reading. My list of obligated books for this panel is much smaller than the numbers submitted for awards. I really don't know how all the judge's panels do it. For me, it's just about time to sink into the un-obligated for a time.

**And for those worried that my clearly obvious burnout might result in my choosing to only recommend the books I had pre-selected as most appealing to me, you'll be happy to note that I have been more than pleasantly surprised by a few with completely unappealing jacket copy and will be recommending them for inclusion in our final official list of recommendations.


  1. Nice post and sometimes I feel the same way. I occasionally experience burnout too. In fact I am going through that now. I have started several but not in the mood to finish plus I have to start on new obligations for deadlines. Hopefully I can get out of this rut soon.

  2. Since I don't read ARCs, my only reading obligation is to my kids. It's my job as a parent to be aware of what they are reading. It doesn't feel like that much of a burden, though. I homeschooled my first kid, so I am accustomed to reading what they read.

  3. After forcing myself through five miserable reads in a row, five books I had to review and almost could not bear to read, I told myself No More. And I mean it. I'm not requesting any more review books that just look so-so. If I don't like a book, I am just flat out not reading it.

  4. I have to agree with debnance. I request a lot fewer books now, and refuse to feel forced o read something that is of no interest to me. We should not have to feel pressured; it takes all the joy out of reading.

  5. I think a lot of my discontent right now is the fact that I was sent 12 books to read in just over 2 months for this advisory panel. That takes up half (or more) of my monthly reading list so I haven't felt like I could read much that I've chosen myself. But I do agree that I no longer accept ARCs that only look so-so. Sometimes I note them down and later decide to read them if I see enough good reviews, at which point I kick myself for turning them down originally, but it does help the sanity a little bit.

  6. You poor thing. 12 books in 2 months is not something I can do for 'someone else'.
    And I liked the phrase regarding poking yourself in the eye with a pointy stick! And that's how it feels when an ARC that you did NOT request lands in my mailbox.
    ARGH! That's happened three times in the last 3 months.
    I hope you get a chance to enjoy your reading again. It is definitely cumbersome when it becomes a chore. Which I have felt, and so I have finally seen the light and realized I did this to myself. Now I say no.


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