A Bookend to 2012

This site, in its current iteration, was born a year ago. Now, a year later, I’d like to put a bookend on 2012. I’ve come to realize that making broad announcements about where the site is heading is the best way to make sure those things never happen. It’s like making a reading list. For me, anyway, that usually means I will find dozens of books I want to read before the ones that made my list. So, no broad announcements this year. Instead a pledge to continue to plant, prune, and trim the site with the intent to make it better than it was last year.

Italo Calvino says in If on a winter’s night a traveler, “If you think about it, reading is a necessarily individual act, far more than writing.” I think that’s very true, but there are some things you can do to share your reading experience with others. I’ve seen first hand how sharing the experience of reading inspires others to read. I’ve also seen how you can take your reading experience, that isolated individual act, and make it something that can be universally appreciated by writing about it. We’ve had readers from across the world share their experiences with books here and I can not imagine a more worthwhile way to spend some of my down time.

Thank You For the Inspiration to Keep Reading, Learning, and Writing

One of the best decisions I made last year was to open the site to guest submissions. We’ve had a revolving door of great posts from readers with a variety of backgrounds.

Behind the scenes, I’ve received countless emails from folks inspired to read or finish a book despite having been unable to do so for years. Some of those born again readers have gone on to write guest posts which then inspired other guest posts. You’ve created a beautiful cycle that should, if I’m properly managing the site, come across in the content.

The other thing, that I didn’t know at the time I started the site, is that I would get a year of inspiration to keep reading, learning, and writing, myself. I am grateful to you all for that. I’ve had my best reading year, met and talked about books with wonderful people, wrote a few short stories, and wrote thousands of words of non-fiction for the site. All inspired by the feedback and interaction this site’s created. Thank you.

A Change To Guest Post Submissions

There are things that I intend to improve upon in 2013. For one, I need to find a better way to consistently handle the myriad of great guest post submissions I receive. I’ve decided to experiment with Submittable. You can find the new submission page here.

I truly hope this does not slow the stream of incredible contributions to the site. The basic rules of guest posts will be the same, but I need something other than my inbox to manage things. I appreciate your patience and hope for your continued contributions in 2013.

I’m always open to suggestions as to how to improve the site. Feel free to comment here or share your thoughts with me via email: brandon@readlearnwrite.com.

A Bookend to 2012

Now, to fulfill what I promised to give in the opening paragraph, a bookend to 2012. First, let me say that to need a bookend is a great problem to have because one has to assume you have enough books to need support if you’re looking for one. Congratulations, first, for needing one. Your year must have been filled with the highs and lows that only great books can bring.

The utilitarian side of a bookend is, of course, to act as a support system. Along those lines, my hope is that this site will continue to be a support system for your own reading goals in 2013. I know that it will continue to support mine.

The wonderful thing about a bookend, though, is that you can keep extending it out to hold even more books. As we move toward 2013 my hope is that you continue to expand upon the bookshelf of knowledge you grew in 2012. I hope you can find the room on your shelves to keep sliding in new books. I hope you find the inspiration to live an intentional, meaningful life paying attention to those things that give you the most value and then sharing your experiences with others so they can share in your good fortune.

I hope to hear from you all again in 2013.

Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: Connections Between Man, Nature, and the Afterlife

This is an essay by Amarie Fox. 

The natural world is a mortal collective, composed of physical matter that will eventually pass out of existence. This single similarity, though, is often dismissed or overlooked by humanity. Evolution carried civilization forward, away from our original primitive roots, and during that process, a simultaneous estrangement from nature occurred. Through our detachment, namely our intellectual advancements, we became distinguished beings, separated from everything else that could not call itself human. One of the most obvious lines of demarcation that led to this elevated status is language. However, even the biblical episode of the Tower of Babel – where mankind basically talk their creation into being – accurately presents the darker side to the act of discourse. In theory, discourse revolves around the basic presumption that all things are essentially talked into being, including social constructs and ideologies. If we are to be honest, in many ways, we have intellectualized ourselves above the natural world, creating further divergences not only between man and nature, but between one another, as well. After all, there are categories of man and woman, black and white, religious and secular. In such a society, then, the mere suggestion of a democracy can present a challenge. How does one unite and sew together all of the loose strands that make up America, especially when such a wealth of identities exist? Can it even be done?

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass strives to accomplish this, by resolving the problem and centering his collection of poems on a single, universal image: grass. For what is lower to us than grass? What is more ignored and trodden on, every single day, than grass? Yet, what is more representative of a nation? As a poet of a country still struggling with its identity, Whitman wanted to use language – the very thing that divides – in order to unravel our discourses and bring us back to a purer outlook that reminds us of our similarities to one another and nature. Through the reoccurring motif of grass, Whitman successfully spreads his message of equality and oneness, while also examining and working through several seemingly opposite or conflicting ideas.

What does it mean?

The trouble most people seem to encounter with poetry is the cryptic nature – the symbols and connections. It scares people away, they assume it is one for the elite, certainly not the everyday man. Whitman, though, never wished to isolate himself, or purposely fill his message with images one could not grasp. Opening the original cover, to the first edition, one is met with a portrait of a man in simple dress, looking as if he just left the fields.

Keep in mind that in this early period of American history, we – as a nation – were still trying to distinguish ourselves, figure out what it meant to be “an American.” The poetry Whitman was writing was (and still is) not lofty or ‘English’ in any way. It was radical and new. It spoke not just to his generation, but all generations of people to come.

One cannot demand something from poetry. Maybe it isn’t always a quick or easy read. Maybe that is the point. It takes time; it takes patience. It has to unfold for you with time, you cannot expect to bludgeon it open, letting its meaning spill out, on the first read through.

Poem of Walt Whitman, An American

Originally titled, “Poem of Walt Whitman, An American,” in the 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself,” appropriately begins with a focus on the singular, with the pronouns “I” and “myself” both present in the very first line. It is only in the third line that there is a slight shift from one man, the speaker – Whitman, himself – to the collective: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”

Who is this “you”? Traditionally, this use of apostrophe, or the inclusion of ‘you,’ was used in sentimental poetry of the time. However, Whitman takes it on, in order to open up the poem, because ‘you’ could refer to anyone – one person or many.

However, the “spear of summer grass” is the real turning point and what allows the speaker to illustrate his larger message. The rest of the poem blossoms from this association between Whitman and the blade of grass. It as if the scope is readjusted or widened, causing the singular to be redefined. The poem is not about just one man, exactly, but a multitude of identities and personalities that the one man seeks to take on and embrace.

Grass: The symbol of one and all

This initial observation sets the tone and is elaborated on, later in the poem, when grass is shown as representative of both the individual and the collective. Just as a blade of grass uniquely stands alone, so too does each person. However, we also exist together and make up one entity – blades of grass create a lawn or in this case: the American people make up America. Whitman understands it to be a perfect metaphor and carrier for his message:

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white,

Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them

the same.

In its undiscriminating manner, grass delivers a silent lesson to us all. Like a magic mirror, in which we can periodically look down upon, it reveals a true image: that every man, no matter his skin color or social rank, is composed of all of the same matter and materials. We have to look to grass as an example; just as grass grows among everyone, we have to see one another as equals. Surely, we can be divided by social constructs, but the fact remains that they are only human constructs of our own making and have absolutely nothing to do with the natural order. One blade of grass or one person is no better than the next. If we choose to take that belief on, we’re simultaneously chaining ourselves to a very limited notion of life. Whitman’s prescription for this is radical inclusivity. Through several pages, he paints a portrait of certain types of people by cataloging them, one right after the other. From the duck-shooting, to the deacon, to the lunatic being carried to the asylum – nearly every type imaginable is included.

Whitman shows himself to be a man with a dual vision. As much as he is attuned to individual variations, he can also compile them into a whole, so that they exist together, side by side, like blades of grass, blurring into one another. It is almost as if every person is a section of a gigantic, sprawling mural. One can either narrow one’s focus on a particular section or stand back and view the painting from afar. Still, no matter the perspective, the mural would not be totally complete without any of its individual elements.

“I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born”

Whitman was a poet of the people – not just of man or woman, free man or slave. Whitman sees himself in all people and meditates on every existence and this democratic inclusiveness is remarkably evident in “Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry.” Whitman no longer just encompasses all kinds of people, but people in all times, including the future generations: “What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you – I laid in my stores advance / I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born.” He doesn’t just transcend social boundaries, as in “Song of Myself,” but also time and space. The song he is singing isn’t just for “himself” or even for his generation, but for all generations, including all of the ones he will never know. It is as if he is opening his arms even wider for an embrace to include multitudes upon multitudes. Obviously, we can be separated by history, but, for Whitman, we share so much, and people will always be people, despite our cultural and technological advances.

“What is grass?”

During the “What is grass?” section of “Song of Myself,” Whitman eases into the connection between grass as not just an emblem of our day-to-day existence, but of our mortality. Of course, this metaphor is not original to Whitman, but he does manage to do something unique and interesting with is, by calling it the “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

Now, grass is not typically associated with hair, but the connection fits, because hair is essentially dead, once it grows out, and yet it remains tethered to our bodies. We don’t think twice about how we contain both living anddead elements. Whitman forges this correlation between hair and grass, because both operate in similar ways: while hair is dead and grows from a living source, grass is alive and blooms from the dead. Both are links between two different realms. As much as grass can be seen as a divider between the living and dead, it is even more so a joining force or intermediary and an opportunity for spiritual reunion within a natural setting:

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and children?

 

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,

And ceased the moment life appeared.

 

All goes onward and onward . . . and nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

The grass is “beautiful” hair of graves, because the dead are a component of it. By channeling their energy and materials into the soil, the dead are able to live on. It is “lucky” to die, because we change after our human deaths and take on another, new life. We escape our flesh, but our atoms – the ones Whitman mentions in the beginning of the poem – help support other natural things to flourish. Those living parts of nature become like telephone lines to the living, signaling that the deceased are always perpetually present and near by. Again, he proposes why we need to re-establish a relationship with nature: in essence, we are nature and to nature we will eventually return. The link to what we will become – and what those we have loved and list – is all around us.

The body and soul may be considered two separate things that exist together for a very short amount of time, but during that union, they also share a mutual beneficiary relationship. While the soul experiences many sensual experiences through the body, the body exists primary for the soul. Meaning that without the body and its death, we would not be able to channel our carbon and other materials into something else and live on. In fact, toward the end of “Song of Myself,” Whitman makes another correlation, this time between the living and dead, because just as the body exists for the soul, the dead provide a service, of sorts, to the living:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

 

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fibre your blood.

Even when we go on about our day, Whitman implies that the dead are, for all of eternity, with us, since they are giving forces, or really life-giving forces, by providing oxygen, which, in turn, keeps us alive. The soul and body may share one relationship, but the dead and living share another.

Here is what it means

In the Preface to Leaves of Grass Whitman admits that “a great poem is for ages and ages in common and for all degrees and complexions and sects and for woman as much as a man and a man as much as a woman.”

These days, every thing and every one has a niche. Literature is not simply literature; even it is fragmented and divided into neat categories. The worry should be that, when one is so immersed in a particular group, it might become difficult to see past the community. We want to somehow set ourselves apart from the mass, even wear a special badge of distinction, but that seems even further away than anything from what Whitman first suggested.

Sure, every century will have its share of crises – whether political, social, or individual – but throughout his work there is a tone of familiarity and comfort, of an American sitting beside another American. He is looking forward to us and singing the same song he sang to the 19th century, because it is an eternal song, one that can never pass out of relevance, and one that we need a constant reminder of time and time again.

If I aimed to do anything with this piece, it is share a common love and understanding of early American poetry, for is carries with it important messages that we cannot forget. In such a time as we live in now, maybe it is comforting to feel connected to something. Poetry can do that. Whitman provided the comfort, opened his arms wide, but maybe the hardest thing to do is look back at him.

Links:

Walt Whitman Archive – http://www.whitmanarchive.org/

Leaves of Grass on Project Gutenberg – http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1322

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Amarie Fox is a writer and like everyone else on the internet has a blog (Sorrow & Lust). She receives digital mail at amariefox.letterbox@gmail.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by lovelornpoets

Breathe, Read; ignorance is no excuse

This is an essay by K. E. Argonza.

Did you ever sign a contract without reading it? Did you ever put your name on something without ever looking at what it was? Most of us have, especially with a salesman breathing down our neck. Maybe the salesman thinks they’re doing us a favor when he explains it paragraph by paragraph, taking five words to explain what is embodied in several paragraphs on the page. If we read it, it doesn’t mean that we absorbed or understood the information.

Putting our name on a contract is harmless enough for something like a phone bill or an internet provider. The implications are worse for something like a divorce decree, an auto loan or mortgage. We’re just good old normal people though, and when we don’t read something that we sign, it only has implications for us. It harms no one else in the long run.

So what happens when lawmakers don’t read?

The Patriot Act, voted in with a standing ovation in 2001. The name itself was a huge rallying cry for Americans still shattered from the wounds of September 11th. We were high on this new “USA! USA!” chant. We were the sleeping giant and Osama Bin Laden had woken us up. Plus, our lawmakers are intelligent men and women of Congress. These are people with great educations, assistants and staffers who make important decisions.

Surely, they would not enact something into law that they did not read.

They would not succumb to the salesman breathing down their necks pressuring them to sign the dotted line.

It was the wake of 9/11 and the document we did not read was the Patriot Act.

We extended the Federal government’s rights to collect intelligence on our own citizens, detain immigrants, conduct domestic surveillance and do secret searches with little restraint. The very things that were considered our constitutional rights for decades were stripped in 3 days. The bill passed the House of Representatives 357-66 on October 24th, 2001. The Senate passed the bill the next day. The President signed the bill on October 26th, 2001.

That’s three different stages where such a bill should have been read, but wasn’t. For the few that had read it, they should have calmed down enough to think through the implications and the consequences. I’m sure many of those in Congress that day regret allowing that bill to pass. That was a novice mistake from the people who run our country.

Maybe it was no one’s fault, after all, the document was not made readily available to citizens and barely made available to elected officials.

As one might say that we should not denounce a book without reading it, one should not praise a piece of legislation without reading it either.

What are we putting our name on?

Have you signed a petition online, whether it be on facebook or some other social media? Did you look up the cause or the company? Even if the cause is good, maybe the method in which that organization chooses to fight for that cause isn’t. Is it a violent group? Is it one that denounces the American Government? Does it have questionable affiliations?

I have seen friends on facebook sign their name on a petition support same-sex marriage, the environment, the return of prayers in school only to discover that the group hosting the petition believed in destroying the government in order to attain those rights. As we all know, once it’s on the internet, it’s very difficult to take off.

So breathe. Read. And take a moment before you attach your name to something.

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K. E. Argonza has lived in four countries, was once fluent in three languages and has an annoying inability to stay in one place. This addle-minded millennial beat writer is an Afghanistan veteran, blogger at  http://www.KatArgonza.com and can be followed on twitter @KEArgonza.

Photo: Some rights reserved by D.C.Atty.

How to Buy Books for Others

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

What we like to read is a very personal matter. Most of us have our preferences, and those preferences are likely to change over time. What we do for work, our hobbies, our personal life, all these things affect what we enjoy reading. That’s why buying books for others can be a complicated endeavor. Because chances are, we haven’t read everything out there, and too often, we don’t know what our friends and family are reading right now, if anything. So what to do? To successfully buy books for others, we need to think about two things before we start a search at Amazon, our local independent bookstore or wherever (I like yard sales and vintage book shops): knowing your books, and knowing your reader.

Know your Books

Having a good general knowledge of current and classic books will greatly help you in your book-gifting endeavor. Being able to distinguish between the main genres of fiction and nonfiction will also help. Do you know the difference between a Regency romance from a sci-fi thriller or personal memoirs from a DIY book? If you find that you’re only familiar with the books and genres you read, you may need to do some research. That’s okay–research is fun for readers like us, right? There’s lots of good information about new releases and classics in user reviews at Goodreads and Amazon and a great list of A-Z general information about book genres at The Guardian.

Being able to recall information about genres and books, and their designated audiences will help you match them to your readers.

Know your Reader

Ever bought a book for someone you didn’t know very well? If you actually care about the person in question enjoying the book it’s trickier than it sounds. Yes, you can buy them a wildly successful bestseller or something by a Pulitzer Prize or Noble Prize winner, but even if a book’s popular that’s no guarantee that the individual receiving the gift will actually read it. Having some general information about the person you’re buying a book for will really improve your chances of he or she eventually processing the words on page.

  • Hobbies and interests can provide important clues. Are you shopping for a DIY-er ? How-to, recipe books and non-fiction are probably ideal. Television habits can also provide clues. Is she addicted to True Blood or Game of Thrones? Is he always online playing World of Warcraft? Sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural fiction and epic historical novels are likely to go over well. Know a travel-junkie? Travel guides, ethnic cookbooks, novels about far away places are all good choices for these folks.
  • Age and current life situation can also be a determining factor. Young adult fiction is popular among adults of all ages, but absolutely ideal for that teenager you want to encourage to read. Personal memoirs are most popular among a more mature public, but if you know someone that’s a big fan of the author, that might not be the case. I’m sure if Justin Bieber penned a tell-all tale of his teenage escapades, my 13-year-old niece would be anxious to read them, even though memoirs aren’t really her speed under normal circumstances. Push friends with kids to read by buying them a picture book to read with little ones. Buy something cool and quirky like Thomas’ Snowsuit or Where the Wild Things Are so that they’ll see, in case they didn’t know already that kid’s books can be a lot of fun. If they have older kids, why not buy them two copies of a fun middle grade or young adult book to read together, like Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, or introduce them to a classic with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Personality is also key. Your little brother, addicted to excitement, is more likely to finish a John Grisham or Michael Crichton thriller than one of Nicolas Spark’s plodding and tragic romances. Friends and family with short attention spans that tend to read in short bursts, (online, newspapers, and magazine pieces), may enjoy big books of essays, facts, or jokes or photo books with limited text, heavy on the photos. One of my favorites for non-reader friends with a quirky sense of humor and a short attention span is anything by Dave Sedaris, although I will admit that my favorite by far is Me Talk Pretty Someday closely followed by When You Are Engulfed in Flames.
  • Personal ideology and political ideas also factor pretty importantly in what people enjoy reading. Your feminist political activist best friend is going to despise a passive romance heroine being saved by a brawny, arrogant prince or pirate. A conservative stay-at home mom may be seriously offended by Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch just as your progressive liberal roommate is probably opposed to reading anything at all by Ayn Rand, but especially The Fountainhead.

Finding the books

Finding books for friends is like combining beloved acquaintances at a dinner party. It requires some forethought and meditation to decide who will get along or mesh well. Sometimes you will fail.

Some books are so amazing, so life-changing for us on a personal level that we feel like everyone should like them. Don’t fall into this trap. While I absolutely love Norah Labiner’s Our Sometime Sister, and Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, after repeated attempts to share them with a wide variety of readers, I realize they’re not for everyone just because I found them enthralling. Of course I had to talk pretty forcefully with my subconscious to keep it from becoming too irate, as treasured books are like loved ones –you feel the need to defend and protect. How could anyone not adore those amazing words on the page, etc?

For example, Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband is ideal for friends that tend to avoid poetry with the argument of it not having a plot line, because unlike much modern poetry, it tells a story, doesn’t just express a feeling, a sensation or an experience. And Labiner’s use of language in Our Sometime Sister might convince a poetry fanatic to give novels another go. Why does this matter? Because if you want to expose a loved one to something outside their norm, sometimes a cross-genre title or a novel that mixes elements of multiple genres is a painless way to transition would-be readers into something new and different.

Then there are those loved ones that don’t mind a little conflict, or people challenging their ideas—these people are fun to shop for. These are the Republicans that smirk when they unwrap Obama’s biography, and the atheists that roll their eyes and grin when they pull Billy Graham’s latest book out of a gift bag. Just remember, you’re likely to hear them railing about it for a few months or more during and after they finish reading. You’ve given them fodder for the fire, so be ready to debate, or at least smile and nod convincingly.

Buying books for others is far from an exact science. But if you put some thought and research into what and who you’re buying for, books are an amazing gift. I’m a true believer that there are books out there for everyone, you just have to find them. Even non-readers can be sucked in by the right story. So give it your best shot, you may end up with a new reading buddy.

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jimmiehomeschoolmom.

It’s Okay to be Limited: Genres I Refuse to Read and Why

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Being varied as a reader and a person is an admirable thing. There’s no way around it, we go around talking about how variety is the spice of life for a reason. Being open to the ever-growing multitude of book genres and subgenres allows us to be “well-rounded” readers and human beings.

That said there are some genres that I just can’t seem to force myself to read of my own volition. You may feel the same way about certain categories of books, too. It’s okay. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about allowing yourself to have preferences and be somewhat limited in your reading habits. When it all comes down to it, there’s no possibility of you being able to read every book out there, and it’s not even likely you can read one book by every author in the world during your lifetime. Do you despise thrillers, or Victorian classics? Don’t sweat it or waste your time worrying about what people will think. Instead, focus on books you love that widen your horizons and strengthen your knowledge base.

As a bit of an obsessive-compulsive reader, when without reading materials, I will go to desperate lengths to keep my mind busy. Before I know it, I’m reading the ingredient list on a box of cereal, which doesn’t figure among my preferred genres. But under normal circumstances, I have my cheat sheet, of genres that don’t generally agree with me that I share with friends and relatives and I highly recommend it. Because no matter how much people harp on  “it’s just a book”– books can have a strong emotional punch and sometimes I’m not up for a black eye. Add to that the simple truth that reading books takes time, and time is limited, and I feel completely justified in being a little picky when it comes to what I’ll read.

The genres I avoid can be divided into two main groups: Genres I enjoy but avoid because they upset me after the fact, and genres I avoid because I simply don’t enjoy or appreciate them.

Genres I enjoy, but avoid anyway

What am I talking about? There are books that you may enjoy that haunt you after the fact, disturbing your waking, and resting hours with nightmares about killer clowns and climate change.

  • Horror novels in particular are not for me. Because however much I may enjoy the superb writing of Stephen King, it’s never worth the months of my life that I spend being afraid to doze off into a dreamland populated with scenes from The Shining. So for sleep’s sake, I avoid horror novels like the plague.
  • Stark, post-apocalyptic fiction like that of Cormac McCarthy in his Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, The Road is another no-no for quality shut-eye. Images of people gathered around a cozy fire, roasting a baby on a spit are not happy fodder for my overactive imagination and uncooperative subconscious.
  • Science fiction in general is something I often skip for the same reason. Even funnier tomes like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake have sometimes made me start in the middle of the night and regret my reading habits when the wheels in my head won’t stop turning.
  • Fantasy can cause a similar reaction, but I love it too much to leave it completely alone, as I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to Laurell K. Hamilton, Juliet Marillier and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The genres that give you nightmares or make you uncomfortable after the fact may not be on this list. Maybe you’ve had to stop reading political memoirs or nonfiction works about the environment because you even though you enjoy reading and learning about important world issues, you can’t afford to keep tossing and turning. If you’re truly addicted to a genre that has this effect on you, my suggestion is to read it at a time of day far from your scheduled bedtime, and right before bed, read something different that doesn’t give you crazy dreams. It won’t always work, but it’s better than nothing if you can’t bear to swear a particular genre off.

Genres I avoid because I don’t enjoy them or find them worthwhile

Some genres just aren’t worth our valuable reading time. Maybe we don’t enjoy them, or maybe they strike us as beyond vapid and beneath us. That’s okay, too. Some of the genres that I avoid for these reasons are the following:

  • Self-help is fine and good for lots of people. Me, my reaction is most often anger or disgust. Who’s the author to tell me how to solve any problems I may have? Why do I care what he or she thinks about how to make new friends? Do I even need to make new friends? Before I know it, I’m wrapped up in a conundrum of denial and rage—no, I don’t have a problem that self-help can solve, and it doesn’t matter, because all of a sudden, I’m furious about it. So in the end, the books are useless for me, because I don’t have the right attitude. I want to be self-sufficient, not dependent on some so-called expert to fix an important aspect of my life. Ironically, on the other end of my love-hate book spectrum are how-to books, which I adore. An expert telling me how to live my life=unacceptable. An expert telling me how to install a light fixture or publish my first short story=awesome.
  • Inspirational gift books full of transformational stories like Chicken Soup for the Soul also figure high on my list of genres I despise and avoid. Although I’m loath to admit it, this sort of writing tends to make me cry and feel like a cheesy female stereotype. I don’t enjoy crying or feeling cheesy.
  • Self-indulgent celebrity memoirs by the likes of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian try my patience and give a bad name to the larger genre of biographies and memoirs. Not to be condescending and judgmental, but I have more important things to read and think about, and am most often annoyed by the story of some actor or model’s ascent to fame as inspired by it.

Books in genres that you don’t enjoy or view as worthwhile should be skipped sans guilt unless the book in question was written by a loved one, or is required reading for work, school or your book club. You only have one life, and a limited time to read as much as you dare.

So what if I avoid horror, sci-fi, self-help and celebrity memoirs? That still leaves me with a list that includes literary classics, chick lit, mysteries, novellas, romance and westerns, and that’s only in fiction. Besides, setting some general limits doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally make exceptions for celebrated classics and Pulitzer-prize winners–I know I do.

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by alubavin