Book Juggling

Sure, it’s a thing. I’m just not very good at it.

Book Juggling

As a voracious reader — judgy people might cough into their hand that it’s called “addiction” — I always have something to read, and I do what I can to maximize my reading time. As I’ve mentioned before, I have, on more than one occasion, finished one book and started another while brushing my teeth.

I’ve also mentioned that I typically don’t read multiple books simultaneously. If I’m captivated by a book, I want to revel in it to the exclusion of pretty much everything else — conversation, sleep, billable work hours, that sort of thing. If I’m reading more than one book at a time, it usually means that I’m just not feeling it for any of them.

But given that life rudely intrudes on my reading time, I typically only average about a book a week, maybe scooching to 1.5 depending on how much sleep I’m willing to trade away. Under certain circumstances, though, I need to spike that average way up in order to meet the (over-)commitments I’ve made.

Spring, in particular, is an insanely busy season for books, what with all the big releases and a bevy of conferences and festivals. Usually starting in February, I find myself needing to read fast, and often in overlapping waves — my annual foray into book juggling. What I lack in style, I make up for in enthusiasm.

In my case, the overabundance is all self-inflicted.

Not only do I write a column for the Independent (which we thank you for reading), I’m also a reviewer and an assignments editor, which means I get to see all the books available for review.

So many wonderful possibilities to choose from, all so alluring — dare I say, seductive? Irresistible. Allowing a book junkie to assign books is the dictionary definition of handing the fox the henhouse keys, and I’m pretty sure it’s a good example of what they mean by “self-dealing.”

If I don’t have three books queued up for review, I feel like I’m falling down on the job. I plaster sticky notes on the covers, noting the release dates so I remember in which order to read them.

And reviewing inevitably requires some (or much) rereading, especially if a certain reviewer neglected to make good notes the first time through. Plus, if I choose a book by an author I haven’t read before, I usually feel obligated to read at least one of their previous works. Perhaps that’s why I really like debut authors.

Also, as an author, I have lots of author friends. And this year, especially, lots of them have books coming out, tumbling one after another like a scrum of puppies. Just in March and April, there are: Be With Me Always by Randon Billings Noble, The Unrepentant by our own E. A. Aymar, White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf, and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim.

Since I can’t review books by friends for the Independent, I collect these up for other blogs I contribute to. I admit to relief that three of these are debuts, and I’ve already read Ed Aymar’s previous books. All four are garnering impressive buzz, and I can already personally vouch for two of them. I’ll be writing about all of them this season. (Look for the Independent’s reviews of Elephant and Miracle — neither written by me — coming soon.)  

Another aspect of having writer friends is getting the opportunity to serve as a beta reader for their books at some point in the drafting process. To be asked is an honor, and to accept is to take on a sacred responsibility that requires close and careful reading, re-reading, note-taking, and, finally, delivering a clear, kind, and honest critique. Reading a friend’s novel in draft is part of my springtime reading this year, and it’s a joy.

Always part of spring reading is preparing to moderate panels or do “in conversation with” discussions at conferences and festivals. For the Independent’s Washington Writers Conference — perhaps you’ve heard us mention it once or twice — on May 10-11, I’m moderating a panel on historical fiction with Stephanie Dray (My Dear Hamilton and America’s First Daughter, among others), Eugenia Kim (The Calligrapher’s Daughter and The Kinship of Secrets), and debut author Zach Powers (First Cosmic Velocity).

Historical fiction is my genre, but the books tend to be girthy — a feature, not a bug, when you’re looking for a book that really draws you in. I just need to learn to juggle faster.

Finally, the Gaithersburg Book Festival, my personal all-time favorite, is just one week after the conference. I don’t know who I might be chatting with this year — last year, it was Elliot Ackerman (Waiting for Eden, Dark at the Crossing, Green on Blue), Kelly J. Ford (Cottonmouths), and Eryk Pruitt (What We Reckon), but I will sign up for as many spots as they’ll allow. We’ll see how many books that adds to what I already have in flight.

I should be really good at this book-juggling thing soon.

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