Our Reading Lives

Why Can’t I Just Choose a Book Already?

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The Beauty of the Drop-Off Birthday Party

The best words I have heard in parenting so far: drop-off birthday party. My son recently turned 5 years old and entered into the era of attending birthday parties without me. On a given Saturday afternoon I simply drive him to his friend’s ninja/Star Wars/slime making party, say hello to the birthday child’s parents, and then leave for two hours of bliss. In those two hours, the world is my oyster. I can go to the grocery store and not have to convince my son that the regular grocery cart is just as fun as the giant, blue, plastic, unwieldy car cart.

One recent afternoon, I drove my son to a gymnastics party. I signed a waiver, watched my son hurl himself into a giant pit of foam blocks, and then rushed out the door whispering in a very Gollum-esque voice, “My time, two hours, my precious.”

The gymnastics party was very close to the public library. As anyone who thinks in voices resembling Tolkien characters would, I carried myself to the library reveling in the idea of spending all of my time adding to my TBR stack. No visits to the children’s section, no train table, and no one saying “Mama! Mama! Mama!” while I tried to read the books’ blurbs.

I sailed into the library and made my way to the adult section. Row upon row of unread text greeted me. My library tote patiently waited while I plucked a book off of the shelf.

Many Books and Many Reasons Not to Read Them

feeling overwhelmed at the library

I started with Poldark: Ross Poldark, a book that has been on my TBR list for quite some time. Before adding it to my tote, I noticed that it is #1 out of 14. I am still trying to wade through the Game of Thrones books and I needed to start another series like George R.R. Martin needs more characters in his books.

Sieving through the shelves, I struggled with settling on any books to bring home. All the historical fiction books seemed to be about World War II and I have read enough WWII books to fill a U-boat, while all of the teal and pink chick lit books reminded me too much of Bridget Jones’ Diary, which I read way too much in high school.

A bit concerned, I felt like one of those brides on Say Yes to the Dress who confesses to the camera that she may cry if she leaves Klinefeld without the perfect dress for her upcoming ceremony. I might leave the library without a book!

Opening Goodreads on my phone, I pulled up my “Want to Read List.” Starting with the first three titles, I visited their homes on the shelves. All checked out. Apparently, my reading doppelgänger visited this same library before I did and checked out my books.

Almost in a panic, I found myself in the W section. Sarah Waters. I loved Fingersmith and The Little Stranger. I decided to choose whichever Sarah Waters book was available. The Night Watch glistened on the shelf. Did Sarah Waters work with George R.R. on a GoT spin off? No, this one is about London during the Blitz. World War II again. I checked Goodreads and it only has 3.69 stars. Back on the shelf it went.

I Wish I Could Choose Books Like I Did in Middle School

My two hours were almost up and I crawled back to the car, unbelievably bookless. As I drove back to pick up my little birthday cake–smeared gymnast, I lamented that I wish I could still choose books the way I did in middle school.

In middle school, picking a book to read was so simple. I read just about everything that came my way. Our wonderful school librarian would recommend summer reading books at the end of each school year. I lapped up all of her recommendations and poured through such titles as Redwall, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and The Secret Life of the Underwear Champ. Combing the shelves at my own house, I read O Ye Jigs and Juleps, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Hundred Secret Senses. My friends and I passed around our paperbacks of Harriet the Spy, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Series and page numbers did not intimidate me, Goodreads did not deter me from reading something that sounded good, and repeat readings were to be expected. I never left the library empty handed.

Just Choose a Book Already!

I’m working on rediscovering the simplicity of choosing a book like I did when I was 12 or 13. While I still love visiting the library, I started searching the catalog, Goodreads, and Book Riot at home and putting books on hold. I also stopped by the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood and stocked up. A smaller selection made it much easier to choose a book. Finally, when I did browse the library shelves again, I kept my phone in my purse and did not consult Goodreads or any other site for recommendations.

Chasing that feeling of reading whatever was around, I recently read Persepolis. A friend dropped off a tote bag of graphic novels that he loved and I chose the one on top. I had heard good things about this one. Without consulting my phone, or reading the blurb, or deciding that I had read too many comics in the past month, I just started reading. Effortlessly finding a new book carried the same joy as those two hours on a Saturday afternoon when my son mixes slime at a party and I spend some precious time delving through the library shelves.