I was a college junior sitting in my off-campus apartment in Syracuse, NY, staring at philosophy and economics books, robust writing assignments and pondering exam schedules. That’s when I decided enough was enough. I left the room and headed downtown. I popped into a drugstore with one of those carousels of paperback books, and without much thought grabbed Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher. I went back to my room, tossed aside the lessons my mother was paying heavily for me to learn and escaped with my new book.
It was the first time I had chosen to read a book just for pleasure. No one was going to ask me about it. No one was going to test me on it. I loved it – Grade Point Average be damned.
Last May, I wrote about a wall in the middle of the annual BookExpo in New York that invited attendees to “Share the Book That Changed Your Life.” I played along and scribbled down Atlas Shrugged. No reader of the wall would have understood, but the real answer was Summer of ’42 – not for what it was about but for what it represented for me.
People develop their joy for reading in different ways. Some begin when the elementary school librarian reads aloud to them sitting in a semi-circle. Others follow the lead of their parents. Some people are just curious. Others never read at all. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that leisure reading in the United States is at an all-time low.
I’m glad I finally connected with reading, but until my Summer of ’42, I found it more scary than satisfying. I was nervous about reading and retaining what I had just read. My first undoing was those old SRA Reading Laboratory colored pamphlets in grade school that defined your level of reading development. The pressure was unbearable as I consistently stayed a color or two behind my dear (and smart) friend Richard.
In high school, it didn’t get much better. In fact, I’ll bet my Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) reading/language scores were lower than anyone currently employed in the publishing business.
Fast-forward to today, and I’m here to tell you my reading odyssey has taken another turn. While I still have fun reading, I’m no longer reading for fun.
As Editorial Director of BookTrib.com, I read a lot — probably more than ever, likely more than most. The staff and I review books at the speed of light — all genres, from bestselling authors to bestseller hopefuls. My time of free choice is over.
I read every book with a stack of post-it notes. It’s no longer okay to digest a passage, smile contentedly, and move on. From start to finish, I’m thinking about the review and afraid of what I’ll forget.
My trips to bookstores are also affected. (Yes, I still go to bookstores.) I used to be master of the leisure hunt for my next read. Now I stare at the front table and reminisce about the books I would have gobbled up before the specter of post-it notes loomed at my office.
My friends have little sympathy. You get paid, they say, to read books and share opinions about them. You get exposed to new authors. You witness extraordinary use of language. Genres you never would have considered. Complex characters. Unique story lines. You engage with readers, ask questions to authors. Every day you get the chance to enter a magical world.
Given those burdens, if I can enhance the reading experience for BookTrib followers by introducing them to new authors and new titles, then I’d certainly consider that a fair tradeoff.
In the meantime, I give thanks to those boring philosophy and business courses that long ago inspired me to pick up a book with no strings attached. My mother paid a fortune for me to go to college. It was worth it, Mom. It got me to read.
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