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New Year’s Day has come and gone, and I find myself wondering—a bit impertinently, perhaps—what New Year’s resolutions you made and whether you’ve managed to keep them. As for me, I seldom make any formal resolutions, only tacit ones. I think halfheartedly, for example, about being more patient, about going to the gym more often, eating less chocolate, getting less apoplectic about the news of the day, and so on. This year, however, I actually made an honest-to-goodness resolution. And here it is: I resolved to read less and enjoy it more.
If that sounds like heresy—I mean, read less?—please let me explain. Last year I chaired the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee. As its name suggests, the committee’s charge is to select the best fiction of the year for young adult readers. For us committee members, fiction included not only prose novels but also short story collections and novels in verse. It may sound like a pleasantly innocuous assignment, this chairmanship, but, in fact, it was more like one of the labors of Hercules when you consider the vast number of fiction titles for YAs that are published each year. We received more than 700 books but had to consider many more in our quest for the best; just to pick up and examine each of these candidates was a task in itself; to try to actually read all of them in the course of a single year was obviously impossible. Nevertheless, since last February, I did manage to read an average of one book a day, which means I very occasionally read two. And, yet, I didn’t manage to read more than 360 or so novels. In the process I discovered it’s possible to read a 300-page novel in a day, but the fact is there are 400-, 500-, and 600-page YA novels out there, and when I encountered one of them, I knew that I was looking at more than one day’s reading, and there went the average. I also had to make time to read a book and a half or two each week to review for Booklist.
As a result, there was a whole lot of readin’ goin’ on at the Cart household this past year, and I single-handedly (single-eyedly?) kept the Visine folks in business. When I tell people about all of this, many say, “Oh, how I envy you. I’d love to be able to do nothing but sit around reading all day.” To which I say, tersely, no, you wouldn’t. The fact is, I often felt chained to my easy chair, required to read from sunup to sundown—well, actually long before sunup, since I get up at 3 a.m. every day, but that’s another story. And many of the books I read are ones that I wouldn’t normally have perused for pleasure. As a result, I gained new respect for kids who don’t like to read, since, to them, reading means huddling with books they have to read for school. Being forced to read something oftentimes sucks the joy out of the process. Yes, many of the books I read are ones I enjoyed the heck out of, but not all of them. Understand that we committee members read for two reasons: one was to discover titles we wished to nominate for committee consideration; the second was to read titles other people had nominated. The former was the less onerous. If I picked up a potential nominee, read 50 pages or so and discovered I didn’t like it, I simply put it aside and went on to the next title. However, if I was reading something someone else had nominated, I was duty bound to read the whole thing whether I much wanted to or not. This was when reading became laborious, and I found myself crankily thinking, will I ever finish this book?
But I protest too much. Because, yes, there was great good fun to be had in my BFYA involvement and that was not only discovering best books but also getting to discuss them. There’s nothing better than talking about books with other folks who have read them, especially when, like the members of the BFYA committee, those others are careful and articulate readers. It was even more fun when there was disagreement, as there was bound to be. Nothing like a good old-fashioned dialectic to brighten one’s day, I always say. In the context of said disagreement—er, dialectic—all the reading I did this past year confirmed something I’ve long suspected: my taste in books is idiosyncratic to say the least. I sometimes felt like a voice crying in the wilderness. One reason for this, I suspect, is that I’ve been reading for so long—65 years or so—that I have come to embrace the offbeat, the unusual, the, well, idiosyncratic. I’m tired of books that, no matter how good they may otherwise be, lack originality and conform to traditional ideas of excellence. Give me some variety, please.
Speaking of variety, I’d like to think the list of 58 titles the committee finally assembled offers something for everyone: realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance—you name it, we have it. Though varied, all of these books have one thing in common: they’re the best fiction of the year. And at least some of them, I hope, will acquaint teens with the sublime pleasures to be found in reading—independently and at leisure. To make that a reality, I’d eat a bug, stand on my head, or, yes, read a novel a day even if it means breaking my resolution. So now, please excuse me, I have a novel to read today.
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