I’m going to be busy / have less internet access for a couple of weeks. I will keep an eye out for good things to link to, but also, I’m going to pull some (very) old posts that went up here years ago and schedule them to post again over the next couple of weeks. I’ll probably revise them as they schedule them, but if you have a faint feeling that you might have seen some of these posts before, you’re probably right.\
Here’s an excellent article at npr.com by Linda Holms. It is still excellent.
Surrender, Holms says, is what you do when you realize that you will never, ever be able to read more than a tiny fraction of the books you would love, and you accept this fact.
Culling is what you do when you declare that all romances / westerns / fantasies / vampire novels are trash and therefore you’re not missing anything when you ignore them. Culling is a psychological trick that protects you from having to acknowledge how much you’re inevitably going to miss.
And Holms says she kind of wonders whether these days there might be a strengthening tendency toward culling:
“What I’ve observed in recent years is that many people, in cultural conversations, are far more interested in culling than in surrender. And they want to cull as aggressively as they can. After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you’d otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, “All genre fiction is trash.” You have just massively reduced your effective surrender load, because you’ve thrown out so much at once.”
Of course you can’t read everything, or even a significant minority of everything, and naturally it’s helpful to narrow your attention down to those specific chunks of everything in which you’re more likely to find things you really do love . . . but there’s no question that every single time you declare a genre or subgenre not-of-interest and ignore it, you’re setting yourself up to miss those parts of it you really would love.
I do think that this is the exact problem — the problem of finding things you’d love when they’re in genres you’re not focused on — that online book review sites serve. We so desperately need reviewers whose taste more or less matches ours in order to winnow through the enormous ocean of books that come out and find at least some of the ones we are really going to love. Of course finding the time to actually read even those may be another question.
At the time I first wrote this post, I read hardly any romances. I read a whole lot more romances now, with a slight emphasis on Regencies, but a fair number of contemporary romances too. So, yeah, my ocean of potential-books-I-might-love got bigger. Despite this, I’m glad to have read them, so culling the “romance” genre would have had significant costs.
So put me down on the side of just surrendering to the knowledge that it’s impossible to read everything I’d love. I won’t even try, it’s so completely hopeless! What can I say, at least it’s better than having to fear I might run out someday!
I will add, this is the kind of realization that led me to swear never to read anything I don’t actually enjoy.