Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Just Read What You Know.

I love the way kids read.

When you're a bookseller, it's very easy to read only "good" books. You're surrounded by recommendations from staff, customers, book reviews. Without even trying, you can pick up book after book (we're all pretty prodigious readers) and never get outside your comfort zone.

The truth is, there are so many books written in any one year, and there have been so many years of writing that you can choose a genre to specialize in, then choose a period of time, only read the best-of-the-best, and still not exhaust the possibilities. It can happen. Some people do it. They get PhD's and specialize in the post-colonial literature of the southeast corner of Nigeria between the periods of March and May 1975 dealing with the harvesting of yams. I once knew a Master's student who was reading only British literature dealing with cheese. It can happen.

But kids latch onto something. They decide one day that they like Mummies, and then they read everything they can find about mummies, whether it's a goofy YA novel or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. They'll read picture books and non-picture books and word books and non-word books. And then they'll decide they like turtles, and they'll do the same.

Kids are locked in that peculiar mental state adults only enter when stuck in a bathroom with only a shampoo bottle at hand--they will read anything, everything.

One thing I've found with my new job, working as the Events' Director, is that I can't shelter my preferences the way I did before. I try to read a little bit of each book we have an event for (there are too many to read them all the way through while still eating and sleeping and doing a somewhat decent job), and I attend the events themselves. And what I find out is that, while I wouldn't normally reach for a book on, say, the Large Hadron Collider, when I start to read it, I'm enthralled. Or I get on the edge of my seat for a reading about 19th century French CSI's.

Attending all of the readings at our store is like going to college and walking into a different classroom every day. It can be hard to keep up, but you discover something new every time. In the rest of the month, I'm attending Particle Physics 101, Holocaust History 202, Art of the Memoir, Special Topics in Medicine: Face Transplant Surgery, Fiction 301, Indian Cooking 101, Multi-Cultural American Literature, The Contemporary Domestic Novel, Oenophilia 101, and Classical Murder Mysteries.

And I don't even mind the homework.

Take my advice. If you cook curry every night, come to Madhur Jaffrey on the 21st, but also come to Sue Whitman Helfgot (10/19) or Julia Glass (10/20). If you're a scientist, show up for Dinaw Mengestu (10/25) or Mona Simpson (10/26). You'll be surprised what you find.

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