Thursday, June 17, 2010

Now or then?

Do you prefer reading current books? Or older ones? Or outright old ones? (As in, yes, there’s a difference between a book from 10 years ago and, say, Charles Dickens or Plato.)

Last year, 55 percent of my reading was of books published within the last year; it was 53 percent in 2008. I'm a little less than 50 percent so far this year, thanks in large part to the 15 Books/15 Days project when I was drawn to the skinniest, not necessarily the newest and shinest, books on my shelves.

Even before blogging, which definitely brings out my competitive (Must. Read. This. First) side, I'd have to say I had an established tendency of reaching for the new hardback instead of the used paperback on its nth printing. This is in large part to support the writers who may not get a chance to publish again if no one buys their books now, and, of course, because I happen to enjoy these books.

But I also enjoy older books and definitely don't believe that because something is new it is automatically a better read or more worthy than what's come before; reading at whim merely leaves me more susceptible to being diverted away from books of merit (or longevity on my shelves) because of buzz.

And I am becoming more and more anti-buzz and marketing--at least inside my head; I'll have to see how well it plays out in my actual reading in the months ahead. No offense, but I don't want my literary DNA to be just like yours! I would like to read more classics, more books from the first half of the 20th century. I would like to buy fewer books as well: my shelves are overloaded.

Whether I can do this and still hang out with book bloggers remains to be seen.

Booking Through Thursday


  1. I've been thinking about this, too, because I get so tired of seeing the same new books being discussed everywhere. It drives me to look for older books that I haven't yet read, and to blog about rereading.

  2. I know I can always count on something a bit different on your blog, Jeanne.

    There are definitely days when I don't think the blogging community's new BFF-status with the professional pr folk is anything to cheer.

  3. Well you got me wondering: 59% of the books I've been chatting about this year were published more than 10 years ago. But I have noticed that the most chatty comment pages are often those connected with the most recent novels. Still, I like the variation that reading across the years offers.

  4. This is a terrific, thoughtful answer. I didn't think to go back and do the math. I wonder what my percentage would be? I'd guess only about 15% new books, but I might be surprised.

    Here is my answer on Rose City Reader.

  5. Interesting that you mention this because just a few mornings ago I had brunch with my nephew who just returned from two years of traveling in China, Japan, and Thailand. He said that most of his reading was of the type of books found in hostels. The sort of things that circulate among the nomads. Dostoevsky, Hesse, Dickens -- this sort of "older" material.
    So he asked me, "What are some good current novelists?"
    It was a surreal moment because I had to really think of current novelists I have thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't long before I was recommending things like Tim O'Brien, Don DeLillo, Steven Heighton, Sarah Waters.
    As for myself -- I am maybe 60/40 -- the predominance of my reading being more "modern" stuff but I still do like to mingle with the oldies. Will the reading [and re-reading] of Flaubert or Tolstoy or George Eliot EVER be out of fashion? I hope not.

  6. I ran out of room in my house for books, so hubby got me a Kindle last year and I love it and now I have space for books, although I still buy a few paperbacks here and there. I tend to find a lot of best sellers that I end up really enjoying but it's whatever interests me.

  7. When I look back at what I've read over the past year I realise just how much I've been influenced by whatever I've seen on the tables in the local bookshop. I would like, this coming year, to read more discriminatingly whether that means modern or less recent publications.

  8. I've never really thought about this before but if I think about it, I tend to read books that are not new or just published.

  9. You can definitely read older books and stay friends with book bloggers. I love reading about older books that I missed or forgot about, or to see what people thought about books I read ages ago.

    I've been making a conscious effort this year to reread old favorites and to read books that have been on my shelf for a while. I just checked my list for the year, and it looks like half of the books I've read in 2010 were published before 2000 (only 4 published in 2010). And about 1/3 were published before 1970, so older than me. I rather like that balance.

  10. I tend to read a lot of classics and older books, but I too get caught up in the hype about new books. I'd say I'm 30% - new, 20% - books from the last 40 years and 50% - classics from the 1950s and before. I think it's good to mix it up, but the hype can ruin books too.

  11. We can hang out because I like the stuff from the early part of the 20th century as well.

  12. Anonymous9:49 PM

    I used to read mainly contemporary books because I was a book reviewer and needed to keep up. Then I stopped reviewing books because I wanted to read what I wanted to read and have spent the past five or six years devouring "older" books, some classics, some not. This summer I've made an attempt to keep up with some of the newer titles again, and did genuinely enjoy The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante and Private Life by Jane Smiley. So that's two! But contemporary lit palls and I think in middle age (me, not you) it sometimes rings false to us. We've read so damned much that we can't waste our time on ephemeral crap!


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