I don’t regret the books I’ve read, but those I did not read

I work in a library that focuses mostly on fiction, mostly on bestsellers, and mostly on recent releases. Recently released bestselling fiction is the big hit, although we certainly carry exceptions to each category, too. I get asked a lot about books. I get asked for advice on what a patron should read – this is the most common and the most natural and appropriate; I’ve taken courses and read books about “reader’s advisory” service, which means advising what books a person might enjoy, based on what they’ve enjoyed (or not) in the past. (I still consider myself woefully inadequate, mostly because we can’t read them all! But I try – and I’m familiar with what’s expected, with what reader’s advisory entails, even when I can’t perform.) Almost as frequently, I get asked about what I am reading, what I like to read, what I’ve read recently. This can be a tricky one. It should be easy – I should be able to answer honestly, and that should often lead to a fun, stimulating conversation, even if our reading tastes differ. (Which is fine! I like to say, how boring would it be if we all liked the same things? And how long the lines would be, too!) But sometimes I get some strange questions or strange responses. Today, when asked what the last book I read was, I answered truthfully: The Taming of the Shrew. I was rewarded with deep, uncontrollable belly laughter as the patron stumbled out wiping his eyes. I don’t entirely understand. Carry on, sir.

I also get asked difficult questions, like, “which Christian fiction author do you like to read?” The truthful answer is none; the diplomatic answer is “Jan Karon and Karen Kingsbury are very popular. What are you looking for? Who have you enjoyed in the past?” It always makes me smile bemusedly when people ask me, “do you read?” (I’m sure there is a librarian out there who doesn’t, but really.) Or another favorite, when a big batch of hot-off-the-presses, brand-new books arrive: “have you read all of these?” To which I reply, “no. I put them out for you all, first.” But sometimes I can’t resist grabbing a brand new one, I confess. The Reversal and The Paris Wife both came straight home with me, for example. And sometimes I get to read a gally before publication, as I did with Chevy Stevens’ Never Knowing (review yet to come, via Shelf Awareness). But mostly, my access to our library’s new books is limited in the same way my patrons’ access is: by availability. Also, I’m very busy, have lots of reading to do, and try to prioritize their access more highly than my own.

I do get excited about a lot of the books that I buy for the library. And I do get to read a lot of them, but I miss more than I hit. By how many? Well, I got curious. Out of 2011 book orders to date, I have read (in no particular order):

**Some of these were among the best I’ve read this year, too.

But on the other hand, I wanted to read:

  • Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante
  • Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital, David Ansell
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovitch
  • The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, Daniel J. Sharfstein
  • The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America, Julie Winch
  • The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon
  • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma
  • Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier
  • The Butterfly’s Daughter, Mary Alice Monroe
  • Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran
  • I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle
  • Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, David S. Reynolds
  • Georgia Bottoms, Mark Childress
  • One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Jasper Fforde
  • Mr. Chartwell, Rebecca Hunt
  • Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas
  • Cleaning Nabokov’s House, Leslie Daniels
  • Crime: Stories, Ferdinand von Schirach

…that’s a lot of books. I may still make it to several of these – I have my heart set on County, for example. (I want to continue my reading of history and historical fiction in Chicago and the northeast, as in The Devil in the White City, Newspaper Titan, Around the World on Two Wheels and Clara and Mr. Tiffany.) But others will just fall off my wish list gradually for lack of attention – or move up it, if someone else raves. This is the joyful problem of the avid reader and professional librarian: so many options, so little time.

I know I’m not alone! What has passed you by this year that you’re still hoping to find time for? Or, what DID you find time for that turned out really, really well? Best of 2011? (We’re talking published in 2011 here for now. My best of 2011 [published in] are those asterisked, above.) Anything really terrible? (I found Gone with a Handsomer Man very disappointing.) Please do share. Tell me I’m not alone. :)

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