August 15, 2014
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What To Read Next?

What do you want to read next? And what do you want to have read by this time, next year? These questions, it seems to me, matter a lot. We seldom talk about them.

Some people don’t read much, and that settles that. Few people are willing to talk about not reading, at least not with the directness of Marco Arment:

I hardly ever buy Kindle ebooks, but that’s easy because I hardly ever buy or read any books.

I can’t see this. First, books are fun. Second, they’re powerful: if you master four or five books, for example, you know chemistry. (Dudley Herschbach told me this when I was starting graduate school. I thought he was pulling my leg. But he was pretty much right: undergraduate chemistry is pretty much what we know about chemistry, and graduate school is about learning to think about the problems, not the molecules.) Third, lots of things I need to know – things like test-driven development techniques, hypertext algorithms, public policy – are much easier to write about than to talk about. Fourth, books are a lot of fun.

But I flit from book to book without much planning. Sure, I sometimes suffer from some nagging qualms over my Swarthmore-bred tendency to immerse myself in a topical theme park: is it really ideal to read five or six histories of the fall of the Roman Empire, or a score of YA dystopian novels? After all, I know from this weblog that, year in and year out, I’m only going to get through about fifty books a year, and there are tons of great books I’m not reading. (There’s a new Pearlstein out; his first has been on my bedside stack for three years. There was a new Robert Caro last year; it’s predecessor has been on my bedside stack for five. I could go on.)

Even at Readercon, where everyone reads, the reading question evokes incomprehension. At this point, I guess I’ve asked everyone in sight. Some memorable responses (all paraphrases):

My neighbors enjoy the television series, Longmire. Linda and I really liked the first three or four shows, which bring the atmosphere of contemporary Scandinavian mysteries to the American West, Wallander with less rain. So, I bought the audiobook of the first Longmire to see if the books were written as well. They are: I read this back in 2006. But George Guidall reads the book so brilliantly that I’ll likely stay with it. The sly, slow hours of my tedious commute run to 12-15 audiobooks/year, so this little adventure will consume 7% of my annual supply.)