What Kind of Reader Are You?

I wasn’t thinking of paper books versus e-books! I mean, what do you choose to read and where do you get it?

As a bibliophile, I read everything in sight – I notice anything in print near me, and compulsively read flyers and signs and food packaging and receipts and whatever else is in view. Reading is like breathing to me!

A little Turgenev, anyone?

My reading tastes have changed dramatically over the years. I grew up committed to fiction and spent years reading one novel after another, but also had a growing magazine habit. In university, I studied Theatre, English, Philosophy and Russian Literature (now there’s a marketable degree!) and so read a lot of weightier titles at that time. After studying library science and becoming a children’s librarian, I read children’s and teen novels for years, and still do. After having a child, I started reading a lot more popular adult nonfiction, starting with parenting books, and continuing on through cooking, home decor, health and the environment. Of course my magazine addiction was going full tilt because they were so easily interruptible. As my kid grew up, I was always bringing home interesting stuff to read aloud or to recommend to Link. Later, I got really into social issues and read a lot of nonfiction on the economy, LGBT issues, and popular science. I’ve come full circle now, spending most of my reading time on novels again. I think it’s because, with an “empty nest,” I have so much more time to delve into a good story.

I’ve spent my whole working life in libraries, so the public library has always been my prime source for books. Because it’s required in my job, I know when famous authors have new titles, what the latest entry in every series is, whose first novel is getting raves, what classic has recently been turned into a graphic novel, which book the new movie is based on, and the name of that book with the blue cover that was on the last shelf of the mysteries section (we get that kind of question all the time!) Needless to say, I can use all of this to my personal advantage – although I don’t cheat: I can put my name on the waiting list as soon as I hear about a book, but I would never jump the queue.

I used to take home a lot of books that the library discarded, thinking I would read them someday, but I moved so many times that I couldn’t defend lugging unread books to their 9th or 10th home. So I just stopped.

For a few years, I bought a lot of books, mostly literary fiction, mostly on clearance. Like Nick Hornby in his book The Polysyllabic Spree, I tended to buy books that fit my ideal image of myself as a high-brow reader: and then they would sit on a shelf and I’d read Marion Keyes instead. I once spent about six months reading only books I’d already bought – no new ones and none from the library. I enjoyed the books, but it cured me of buying too much serious fiction. Now I go for library copies all the way.

I also preened over my book shelves and what they said about me, until I accepted that I wasn’t going to re-read my books (not enough time in one life if I want to keep reading new ones) and no one else in my life had similar tastes and would want to borrow them. Because I was getting more frugal, I just stopped buying single use items – even books.

Well, except for the exceptions. Lately I have been buying a few coffee table books. On deep discount, of course. Because I do like to pore over them often: like 20th century design, or living in lofts. Meanwhile Rom is buying coffee table books on Fenders and Gibsons! We both borrow those kinds of books from the library, too, but it is sooo hard to return them – it’s like giving up a piece of art.

Now my mom and my sister share books among friends, and pick them up at yard sales, or discover a real “find” at Wal-Mart or Zellers. And that is the norm, I think, among folks who read a lot but don’t use libraries.

Just for fun, here is a Polysyllabic Spree type list of all the books I have on hand right now. I wonder which ones will be returned to the library unread? (I’ll report back at the end of the month!)

Peanut Butter Planet – I want to make the vegetables recipe!

  • Gemma Bovery – by Posy Simmonds (graphic novel, currently reading)
  • Make the Bread, Buy the Butter – by Jennifer Reese (cooking, currently reading)
  • A Greyhound of a Girl – by Roddy Doyle (children’s novel, currently reading)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude – by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Serious Fiction)
  • The Correspondence Artist – by Barbara Browning (author’s first novel)
  • Then We Came to the End – by Joshua Ferris (modern/humorous fiction)
  • Peanut Butter Planet – by Robin Robertson (cookbook)
  • The Book Thief – by Markus Zusak (bestseller, “significant” fiction)
  • A Forest for Calum – Frank Macdonald (Canadian best seller, 2005)

What are you reading?


  1. Mel

    I just finished reading ‘I am the Messenger’ by Markus Zusak – a very unusual but good book. Makes me want to read ‘The Book Thief’. Before that, I read ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue – powerful and well written. I try to rotate the genre of book, ie. read serious fiction, then humor, then sci-fi, then biograpy (‘I am Ozzy’ was fabulous). These would be interspersed with a mystery, spirituality and science, psychology, health, and sociology books like Superfreakonomics and the Paradox of Choice. No cookbooks except for Slow Cookers!

    • Hi Mel, That is a great system! I was afraid that The Room would be too intense for me. I keep up on rock biographies as well. Usually instead of rotating the genre of books I read, I find myself drawn to something similar to the last one, so I go on a bit of a theme jag for a while. Your reading times must be very cuddly these days 🙂

  2. SarahN

    I, like you, love libraries (and it helps me pay my council rates, cause I spend all year going ‘I love the library’ so the once a year I get a ‘bill’, I can handle it!). I don’t like the single use’ness of them, as I also won’t read again (like I won’t rewatch things either!) I’ve started to limit myself to two books out at a time though, cause I hate to get late fees, and I figure, two in, two out. I’ve finished one, and yet to start the second, and they have another week due… I find books from other books (something is mentioned or something), reading reviews, and a random browse in the library (or and the occasional blog post!)! I have a ‘to read’ list (but no longer a ‘to see’ list, I did once have one…)

    • I have a “to see” list as well, but I never get serious about making progress on it. That’s a good idea about limiting your library books. I wish more of our customers would do that instead of running up fines and getting their cards blocked!

  3. I have just come from our local Library after doing the rounds of the Bookshops in town looking for a particular book that I don’t know the title of nor who actually wrote it but I will know it when I see it! I read some of this ‘unknown’ book on Monday in Waterstones when on a visit to Leeds but had already bought 3 books (had a birthday gift voucher to spend) and could not justify another – however, today I woke up and decided on the strength that it is payday that I could justify another but now I cannot find it locally to buy. The Library did not have it either but I came home with 5 other books instead – one on cooking, two on making artists books, one on clutter control and one that intrigued me called ‘Simply Wonderwoman’ – a survival guide for women with too much to do. (I am going to see how far off I might be from achieving this title in my lifetime and if I am a lifetime away I will just decide to give up now!) As you can see I don’t go in a lot for reading fiction – I probably do one book a year but I do love talking books – my favourite being Swanns Way by Proust (not as heavy going on a recording) and we listen to them going up to Scotland.

  4. Pingback: Do You Have a Reading Plan? « An Exacting Life

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