I am not sure when or how it happened, but some time after becoming a book blogger, I stopped being a book browser. I would go to the library and the bookstore and book fairs and Amazon armed with a wish list and look for specific authors and titles that I have been wanting for months. And I would feel so thrilled to get a book that I wanted - it was like a treasure hunt and I was always shocked to find that a book so high up on my wish list was, for some unknown reason, not high up on anyone else's, and it felt so wonderful to find a book waiting for me like a gift.
But somewhere along the way, I forgot about the pleasure of walking slowly down a library aisle, looking at so many titles of books, pulling one down from the shelf, and deciding that it was one I wanted to take home with me. I forgot about opening up a book I know nothing about and realizing that I can get just as immersed in that one as I can in all those other books that my friends keep telling me to read. I forgot about how calming it can be to go into a bookstore without an agenda, just open to finding something that appeals to you.
I forgot that I found one of my absolute favorite authors - Georgette Heyer herself - by browsing the shelves of a library and picking a book that I thought I'd like.
Most of the books and authors I love - The Book Thief, Terry Pratchett, the Marcus Didius Falco series, Diana Wynne Jones - have been recommended to me by other people. But some of them I found on my own, just by meandering down the aisles and reading book jackets.
I didn't realize until recently just how much I miss that feeling. This year, I very firmly set no reading goals for myself, but decided to just read what I wanted to read, when I wanted to read it. And I did. So instead of forcing myself to read only from my bookshelf (which would be a very worthy goal, I admit), I allowed myself to read what I wanted from my shelf and supplement it with other books. I went to the University of Michigan's browsing collection in the Undergrad library and read my first Jo Walton book. I looked through Project Gutenberg's offerings and found a hidden gem no one I knew had ever read. I availed myself of the Chicago Public Library's extensive audiobook download collection and listened to a story I have had on my radar for a while but never had the motivation to read. I went to the book store and discovered a fun and entertaining comic series that I'd never heard of before.
The result is one of my most varied and successful reading years in memory. No, I haven't loved every book that I've read, but I've loved the flexibility that I gave myself to read what I want. I love going to the library and just wandering around until something jumps out at me. I love ignoring my TBR list, and picking books by authors that I enjoy but whose books weren't necessarily at the top of my list. I don't need to read only the book that I want the MOST, I can read the book that I want RIGHT NOW. It seems simple, but it's not. With so much choice, and so many recommendations, and so little time, we can so easily put ourselves on a schedule or force ourselves to follow rules that don't always make us happy.
If there is one thing about book blogging that I regret, it's this loss of spontaneity - there's always the thought at the back of your mind about how quickly you can review a book or how recently you reviewed another like it or how likely your followers are to be interested in one book vs. the other option. But the joy of reading exists not only in the act of reading itself - it is there in the anticipation you feel when you go to a bookstore, the affinity you feel when you are introduced to the main character, the thrill you feel when you realize that a book is really, really good. The excitement of finding a book that no one else in your circle has ever encountered before.
And, for me, much of that joy has come about through browsing shelves and websites and catalogs that I haven't for a very long time, welcoming authors and characters and books to my life that would otherwise have consistently been de-prioritized in my reading queue. Because now I know Miles Vorkosigan, have met Terry Pratchett's Dodger, understand much more the court cases leading up to Brown vs. Board of Education, and why so many people love Dorothy Sayers. And I don't know if I'd ever have given them the benefit of the doubt if I didn't allow myself the freedom to leave my wish list and TBR list at home once in a while.
Do you still treat yourself to aimless browsing? What books have you discovered this way?