One of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received was a stack of four or five books, all published the year I was born. I hadn’t read John le Carré’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” but now I felt a connection to it; we’d both come into being at roughly the same time. I wasn’t much of a sci-fi fan, but it seemed like a requirement that I read “The Dispossessed,” by Ursula K. Le Guin after receiving it in the stack.
The gift was meaningful in the way that receiving a reprint of the front page of the newspaper from your birth date is: Here is a snapshot of the world, which was already awake and complicated with ideas, at the moment you arrived in it.
I’m interested in how people choose the books they read. Do they pick up the most alluring from a table teeming with new releases at the bookstore? Read reviews and make selections based on critics’ picks? Get recommendations from friends or celebrity book clubs? The all-you-can-read buffet of books available begs a reader, especially a slow reader like me, to develop a strategy. As with an actual buffet, where you can fill up at the pasta station but be full by the time you get to the make-your-own-omelet bar, I worry about spending too long with any era or genre to the exclusion of others. Perhaps the right move is to graze, a little bit of everything in moderation, keep it interesting, keep moving.
This week, the National Book Foundation announced the longlist for the 2023 National Book Awards, presenting a crop of books on which a hungry reader could happily feast from now through the end of the year.(“Chain-Gang All-Stars,” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah and “Fire Weather,” by John Vaillant just moved to the top of my list.)