Missing the Hype Around Two Buzzy Books

Sometimes, the blogosphere goes crazy over a book, and you read it and fall in love. But sometimes a book that garners tons of praise leaves you feeling underwhelmed. The second thing happened to me with two books in recent months.

Tender | The Martian

Tender by Belinda McKeon

(Goodreads)

Set in 1990s Dublin, Tender is told from the point of view of Catherine, a sheltered girl leaving home for the first time to attend university in the big city. She quickly develops an intense friendship with James, a charismatic photographer struggling with what it means to be gay in a culture that doesn’t accept open homosexuality. It’s a compelling psychological novel, and I loved how it pulled me into Catherine’s growing obsession — right up until the end. Just when the story reaches peak intensity, McKeon pulls away for an ending that provides a tidy resolution without showing readers how the characters got from point A to point B. I would have liked to see more of that character development on the page, and the last chapter felt like a let-down after the rest of the book’s dark power.

The Martian by Andy Weir

(Goodreads)

Six days into the first manned mission to Mars, a dust storm forces the crew to evacuate. On their way to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, debris strikes Mark Watney, leading his crew to believe him dead and to leave the planet without him. But Mark, the mission’s botanist, is still alive, and now he must find away to survive on a planet that is trying to kill him. With immense patience, extreme cunning, and a healthy does of gallows humor, he solves problem after problem. But will it be enough to get him home? Honestly, I liked The Martian better as a movie. This novel reminded me why plot-driven novels aren’t typically my jam; for most of the book, I was just wondering how many more problems Mark would have to solve before NASA inevitably rescued him. Additionally, as a visual learner, I had trouble following some of Watney’s engineering fixes; I was able to understand them more easily on the screen than on the page. This wasn’t a bad book; it just wasn’t for me.

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It Turns Out I Don’t Want to Read My Own Damn Books

I don't want to read my own damn booksA year ago, I was blogging up a storm and blazing my way through the latest buzz books. And I felt a bit burned out, craving the space to amble through the mountains of backlist books on my shelves, savor tattered paperback copies of classics, and re-read old favorites without guilt. A few months later, when I decided to take a break from blogging, I thought the time had finally come for me to do those things.

When Andi announced her intention to focus on reading books she already owns instead of buying new ones in 2016, I was all aboard. I was SO ready to #readmyowndamnbooks. And yet, as I stared at my shelves of unread books over the next few months, they lost all of their luster. The spines looking back at me were books I’ve owned for years but have never felt compelled enough to read. That somehow didn’t change when the flow of shiny new books on my doorstep ended.

So I floundered. I didn’t read much. When I did read, it wasn’t as ravenously as I used to. I missed the enthusiasm of the blogosphere, the thrum of excitement around new releases. It turns out I crave the thrill of the new, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’ve started using the library again, which is super convenient as I work there. It’s nice to not feel limited by the selection on my shelves, which is actually fairly small since I live in a tiny bedroom in a shared apartment, and most of my TBR stash is stored at my parents’ house. I’m enjoying keeping up with the buzz and being able to read new books when my holds come in without feeling like I’m drowning in a sea of release dates.

I feel like I’m finally getting it back, whatever “it” is. Some sense of balance, maybe. Some sense that despite all the changes of the last year, the part of me that can be completely transported and nourished by words is still there. That this key part of my identity is still true, that I’m still me. I’m getting there.