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Posts Tagged ‘dilemmas’

book stack late august sunflowers middlemarch
As you know if you follow me on Goodreads (or read my periodic book roundups), I spent a large part of this summer reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for my occasional book club. Though I was put off by its size, I figured it would be easier to tackle with friends, so I checked it out from the library and gave it a shot.

Spoiler alert: I did not love it. But I kept reading, for several reasons.

First of all, accountability is a powerful thing. I’d never read Middlemarch and I wanted to be able to say I’d given it a good effort. I didn’t finish before book club – but I made it to page 650 (out of 800 in the edition I had), so I was satisfied with my effort. (Two other members who attended the meeting didn’t finish either.) I also liked (some of) the characters, especially practical Mary Garth, and I enjoyed Eliot’s pointed, witty narrative asides.

I know several people (including my pen pal Jaclyn) who love this book. And I figured that it’s probably a classic for a reason: I expected I would be glad I’d read it. So I decided to finish it, even after the deadline (my book club meeting) had passed.

As I was finishing up Middlemarch, I faced another bookish dilemma. I review several books each month for Shelf Awareness, and I get to choose which books I review. It means I don’t usually have to finish a book I’m not enjoying – which is my general policy these days. (As Anne says, life’s too short.)

I sent the following email to my editor:

I’m reading the new Isabel Allende novel (The Japanese Lover) and Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. Allende is a widely respected novelist, and I’m sure this book will be hailed as a great effort and as Literature. (I remember enjoying The House of the Spirits.) But I’m not loving it. In fact, I’m liking Andrew’s book a lot better – it’s a clever South African mystery and I really like the narrator.

I know you generally tell us to review what we like – but sometimes I worry about skipping over a Big Book or “literary fiction” in favor of a mystery or something less “highbrow.” My question is: should I make a real effort to review the “big” books even if I don’t really like them, or keep reading/reviewing according to instinct and whim? Is it a problem if the Shelf “skips” some of these books? (Am I even making any sense?)

My editor (God bless her) replied succinctly, “We are better off reviewing really good books, rather than trying to shoehorn a book into a review because of the author’s stature.” (She also suggested passing the Allende on to another reviewer who might like it better.)

I happily put down the Allende after reading her email, and relished that South African mystery. But it reminded me how powerful the “shoulds” are.

We think we “ought” to finish a book because it’s a classic, or because it’s “cheating” not to finish, or because it’s the new Big Book by a popular author. The perceived judgment we might receive if we don’t finish is strong enough to keep a lot of us reading books we don’t enjoy. And sometimes (this is the kicker) it is worth it to persevere.

I’m glad I finished Middlemarch, because it’s a classic I’d been meaning to read for a long time, and I did enjoy it. But I’m also glad I put down The Japanese Lover, because it just wasn’t my thing. Both are equally valid responses to two variations of the same dilemma.

I bet I’m not the only one who struggles with this question. Do you abandon books you’re not enjoying – all the time, sometimes, never? If you’re a sometimes-finisher, like me, how do you decide?

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Some people switch out their home decor when the weather warms up: lightening the color palette, swapping cozy winter fabrics for fresh summer ones. I have a friend who changes bath and body products with the seasons; several of my girlfriends trade out their candle scents. Me? I swap out my teas.

I’m a year-round hot tea drinker, though I’ll admit it sounds better when it’s 30 or 50 degrees out than when it’s 90. (Abilene summer mornings, I’m looking at you.) Despite being Southern, I don’t really like iced tea, and I want something warm and comforting in the morning, to help me wake up (and ward off the chill of office air-conditioning). But the blends I drink do shift when the mercury starts to creep up.

In the winter, I drink black teas flavored with citrus and spices, and names like Holiday Tea, Hot Cinnamon Spice, Cranberry Autumn, Spice Imperial and Spiced Chai. They’re dark, strong and fortifying; they help warm me to my toes when said toes are shivering in thick tights, cozy socks and sturdy boots. (These are also the months for chai, hot chocolate and cider – the last preferably simmered on the stove and sipped around a fire, or in the glow of twinkle lights.)

My summer teas are also black and flavored – but fruity. Blackberry Sage, Ginger Peach, Apricot, Raspberry Earl Grey – the fruits on display at the farmer’s markets often pop up in my morning cuppa.  They still give me a little caffeine boost, but they taste lighter, brighter, and go better with freckles and sandals and painted toenails, sunny mornings and bare legs under flowy skirts.

According to the calendar, it’s nearly time for summer teas. Colleges are out! Schools will be out soon! Trees and flowers are blooming, visitors are coming, weddings are approaching, and I’m craving all the delights of summertime. But Monday’s high here in Boston was 50. Yesterday’s was 55. The forecast for this whole week? Rain, rain, rain.

So, dear readers, what should I do? Order the fruity teas, sip them blithely and pretend it’s summer? Or try to enjoy the last few weeks of perfect Hot Cinnamon Spice weather, and wearing the new tights and long-sleeved tops I found on clearance the other day? Leave your wise advice in the comments, and tell me how you weather these pesky seasonal transitions.

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