The Accidents of Reading

A lot of different factors may drive how you build your reading list. Some of these are fairly obvious. When you are in school, your classes probably pick most of your books for you. I experience something similar as a writer: a story will contain a character type or a setting I’m not sure yet how to handle, so I’ll investigate how other authors treated it. For instance, for a period I was constantly reading about narcissistic billionaires.

(No sense of humor, apparently.)

But a few times in my life my TBR pile has been determined by something other research or taste.

In 2006, I was living in Minneapolis. I had a lot of time to spend in coffee shops, especially on the long summer nights, so I read constantly. I was also pretty broke and didn’t have a lot of money for books. Minneapolis had lots of great used book stores like Magers and Quinn, with a pleasant atmosphere and employees who make useful recommendations. The thickest, most difficult volumes appealed to me because they gave me the most bang for my buck. I wound up reading The Tin Drum and One Hundred Years of Solitude because they took a while to work through.

Later I moved back to New York. Used book stores were not a bargain there (I blame the overhead), but the city had a great library system. I also walked about ten miles a day around Manhattan and had to carry my reading material with me. I chose slender volumes because they were easier to haul. I discovered Max Frisch, now one of my favorites, because his little thunderclap of a book, Man in the Holocene, was about eighty pages–many of them containing pictures of dinosaurs!

(And free on Kindle Unlimited? Apparently!)

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Once I walked into a bookstore where the literature section was roped off because Stevie Nicks was having a signing. I went to the science section instead and bought Brian Greene’s popular books on theoretical physics. Now I have a basic grasp of special relativity and string theory.

It’s as if Stevie Nicks cast a spell on me. A spell of knowledge!

“Oh she made me cry, made me break down, and shattered my illusions of spacetime.”

The lesson: always have a shit ton of money and an alpaca to carry your stuff. And stay away from witches! Otherwise you run the risk of discovering something new.

So how about you? Any circumstances other than personal taste that affected your reading habits? Did anything good come of it?

Just because you shouldn’t read comments doesn’t mean I won’t.

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