Thursday, February 16, 2017

Table for One! : How to Speed Date Books

A few days ago, in the middle of the pink-and-read-hearted muddle that is Valentine's Day, I had an idea for a really good post. 

While everyone else was busy alternatively sucking face or crying into a bucket of Ben and Jerry's - what the media tells me are the only two appropriate ways to spend the holiday - I had a funny idea for a blogpost about how to plan a perfect date with a book. What kind of titles to choose and where to take them, the foods they'd pair well with and what you should go out and do afterwards... I thought it would not only be a cute take on those kinds of lifestyle blogger standbys, but it would be a  quirky way for a single lady to take on the holiday, that didn't necessarily involve a pint of Chunky Monkey.

As you can tell, that post didn't happen... mainly because my singledom in dating is only slightly less tragic than my current singledom in reading. If you look at my Goodreads profile, it currently says I'm in the middle of two different books, but the truth is, I've been in a little mini-slump for about two weeks. So, I was stuck without a bookish date on Valentine's Day. Cue the sad '90s montage music.

But wait! I might not be able to date a book... but I could definitely speed-date a few, instead!

Thankfully, the Internet - specifically, the Librarian and Educator side of Pinterest that I've come to know and love, and totally gets me - had plenty of ideas.

For some, it was called hosting a "book tasting," while for others, it involved  a round of "book musical chairs," but all gathered together under the "book speed-dating" umbrella when it came to the intentions of the activity: It was a great way to get people interested in a diverse range of titles in a short amount of time, while also providing a fun and exciting reason for them to get more involved in the process of how they chose what to read in the first place.

Naturally, I was on board.

Here's How to Do It: 

1. Gather a couple different titles... the more variety, the better! 
Spread your reading wings, and pick through as wide a range as you can gather up in your arms, without dropping anything. For me, that magic number was about 8! Picking out titles was a pretty easy step, because I organize the shelves on my TBR bookshelf by genre, anyways, so I just made a quick run-through and selected some that looked interesting. However, I didn't just automatically zoom straight to books I had been eyeing... give books that you've not given a lot of attention to a chance, as well!

2. Set a timer for between three and six minutes.
This is pretty much depending on how deep you want to go before you have to start over again. I think a four-minute amount is probably my favorite, because it allows you to read at least a couple pages into the book, and get a feel for the writing style and narrator. For me, this resulted in somewhere between 5 and 9 pages per book... and in one, it got me all the way to 15!

3. Start reading! 
By this point, you've probably taken a peek at the cover, title & author, blurb, etc... but you also have to be aware that first impressions might not always be the right ones. That's why taking a chance to read beyond the cover is important: you get a better feel for elements like writing style, character voices, and description, which will end up deciding how much you enjoy the book a lot more than how it looks on your shelf.

4. When the timer stops, put down the book, and jot a few notes about how you feel. 
For some, this might be a simple smiley face or star scribbled next to the title, while for others might benefit from a 1 - 10 rating system. For me, I allotted two single-spaced lines for writing notes, and then summarized by judging each on a "Sooner-Later" scale. Only give yourself about a minute to write, because this exercise is all about fast timing!

5. Move on to the next title! 
Start the timer again, and pick up your next tome. Keep going, even if you think you've found the book you want to read next... for me, that was book 3, out of the 8 I'd gathered! You might think you've found your bookish soul mate, but you really have no idea who might be just around the corner. Give every title in your stack a chance, and keep consistent with things like timing, and the ratings you dispense. By the time you're finished, you'll have a much better feel for the books on your shelf, and probably have a few book "dates" lined up, too!

(I know what you may be thinking: "Savannah, I don't have time for this!" or "Savannah, this is such a waste of time if you're planning on reading all of these books anyways!" But here's the deal: if you actually plan this exercise out carefully, and follow the allotted schedule of how this should proceed, you're really only taking about 45 minutes to tackle this thing, start to finish. And even though you might be planning on reading all of these titles already... life is short. Read the books you want to read. And if you don't get around to all of those titles, at least you know if you like the taste or not. )

Personal Variations and Special Tips: BuJos and Book Clubs

Listen, I get it: it's a little weird to date your books. Reading only a couple pages at a time out of each book, then moving aside, is something that would typically make my reading-cheater heart ache! But it really is a great way to get to know your shelves - and reading preferences - and there are plenty of ways to make it more interesting. 

For instance, I got a bit of an easy boost from the proximity of Valentine's Day by having flowers on hand, but also added a nice tablecloth, so that none of the crumbs from my kitchen table would get stuck in my books. Some bloggers suggested setting the mood with music in the background, while others recommended light snacks to chew on while you chewed over a new read. For someone looking to unwind after a day at work, or fill up a lazy Sunday afternoon, this might be a perfect way to relax!

While I would always recommend setting up a table or page for your bookish notes beforehand, in order to distract as little from the reading and discovery process as possible, I also think this would work especially well for people who love to use a bullet journal. Having a page in your bujo for bookish dating would not only be a cute spread idea, but would be a helpful way to keep track of your recent reads!

To be honest, this also seems like a great option for setting up book club choices. Maybe making a group trip to the library and staging your own mini-book-tasting would be a good option for those who have a hard time making good group decisions! At the very least, it would give you a few ideas for titles to pursue outside of your group's reading habits, as well.

And speaking of libraries, if you're someone like me, who checks out 11 books from the library at a time and reads about only half of that before they're due back, it might be a great way to sample, and prioritize. Same with those who love their Kindles as much as I do, and have tons of chapter samples sitting in their hard drive that never get read to the extent they deserve. This kind of a reading exercise might be a means of working through to the  titles you really want to sink your teeth into, and you can always clear out that digital storage space for the kinds of books you'd rather not.

There's plenty of fun to be had with picking a winner title, too, like taking it on a special date. For instance, I've been missing out on the ability to be independent now that I'm living back at home... taking a book on a solo restaurant date or park picnic might be a fun way to exercise that particular privilege, while also honoring the importance of reading time!

The End Result: Soon, Soon-ish, Soon-ish Later-ish, and Later

Image result for vinegar girlImage result for the magicians book

Speaking of winner, the winner of my particular Solo-Speed-Read-Dating was... Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl! This contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew made it easy to relate to the characters right off the bat, while also making all of the plot points of the original play immediately recognizable. I was a little worried that it would get a little too pretentious, due to the source material, but instead, it made me think of Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, a book I enjoyed this past year.

It wasn't the only "Soon" rating I had: I'm also really excited to start reading The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Not only is it a book I've been dying to read for a really long time, but the style of the book was funny and clever, and reminded me of the other kinds of contemporary fantasy novels I love to read. I look forward to picking it up soon.

There were also titles that I was excited about, but not the most excited about, and those got a "Soon-ish" rating from me.

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility  I  just wasn't ready to jump into right now, while Agatha Christie's Mrs. McGinty's Dead was set aside for the same reasons: I love these authors, and I would love to get back to their voices soon, but I'd rather take a little time to explore some new ones, first. Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior was added to this pile, too, because I always love a good memoir, but I'm looking for something I can spend a little more time on, instead of a first-person life story I can finish in an afternoon.

I only had one "Soon-ish, Later-ish" title, mainly because I couldn't quite decide whether it merited a place in either stack. Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life read very easily, but it still managed to pack a lot of information into the 6 pages I was able to read. That being said, there are a lot more pages in this book than that, and I'm going to need to dedicate some time to it to really enjoy it.

And, of course, there were two books placed in the "Later" column... which  isn't necessarily a bad thing!

When I first came up with this project, I was afraid I'd come across books I wasn't invested in reading at all, and I'd just be stuck with more pages crowding my bookshelf, but that wasn't the case with either of these reads: it's not that I don't want to read them ever, it's just that now isn't quite the right time.

For instance, Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map was excellent at portraying an evocative version of gritty London, but just didn't feel like the right thing to be reading... it seems much better suited to be read in the oppressively hot dog days of Summer, or the gloomy fog of Fall. Similarly, Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was full of fabulous writing and formatting, telling a teenage boy's perspective in clipped, abbreviated verse that breezily traipses down the page... which makes me think I'll enjoy it even more if I read it on vacation, during the summer.

In the End

Of course, I could be wrong about all of these. My tastes could change, and I could alter my schedule in my TBR stack to pick up one of my later novels in the middle of March! But the thing is, I now know if I could. I have a taste for the books now, and I'm exciting to dive back into them, no matter what time that may be.

I really enjoyed this experience, and it's something that I'm definitely interested in trying again soon. In fact, due to the sheer number of books that currently occupy my TBR shelves, I think I might even want to try implementing it on a monthly basis... I know that setting up a monthly TBR is a pretty popular bookish practice, but I like the informality and wide range of speed-dating better. You might be seeing this kind of post back again soon!

Have you ever tried speed-dating a book? Do you think you'd ever try your hand at this kind of solo reading exercise? What's your favorite kind of "date" to take a good book on? Let me know, in the comments below!

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