“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
— Haruki Murakami
I can’t help but think that this sentiment has somewhat subversively permeated my taste in literature…. I usually don’t go for contemporary “New York Times Bestsellers”… I just don’t. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading bestsellers. No, no, no. There’s nothing wrong at all with that. It’s just that, usually, I don’t let current trends and popular thought dictate what I read or don’t read.
I tend to be a random reader. In college, I emphasized French Language/Lit and Religious Studies. On any given day I’d sit in the dank, ill-lit library, feverishly translating Diderot’s La Religieuse and comparing it to Richardson’s Pamela or Clarissa. Pamela, an eighteenth century English epistolary novel, guided me towards a course on epistolary narratives where I fell in love with The Crying of Lot 49. It also guided me to a new genre for me- Victorian Lit. I found myself poring over what once was popular, sensational fiction but has long been forgotten in today’s cult of the television soap opera: Lady Audley’s Secret. Oh, we read the classics, too, us Comparative Literature majors. It wasn’t all obscure European tomes. Sorrows of Young Werther (that whining, lovely Werther!) appeared on more than one course list…. which went alongside an old favorite- Crime and Punishment- and also a new one: Hunger by Knut Hamsun. (I later went through and read each and every of Hamsun’s novels, despite being somewhat shocked at his infamous Nazi involvement.) Then again, I did enjoy those Ancient Sumerian texts my Sumerologist professor kindly translated for me… it helped in one of my capstone courses, where we read Moby Dick (which until then had intimidated me!) and The Epic of Gilgamesh, among others.
This hugely random college reading load did nothing if not make me a reader guided by instinct. I always had trouble finding my college books in mainstream bookstores because of how esoteric some of them were. And you know what? Those lesser known- or, lesser appreciated ones- were often the very best ones. All this is to say, while I certainly read a fair share of books recommended to me by friends, I have never ever read a book simply because Oprah recommended it, or the NYT, or such. I like my reading flavored, a little exotic, sometimes depressing, but never generic.
What is your reading “style”?