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November 1, 2013

National Reading Month? Our November Reading Challenge

If you have any literary friends – wait, who are we kidding? You’re a Felony reader; of COURSE you have literary friends! – the odds are pretty good that at least one of your group has signed on for NaNoWriMo, less adorably known as National Novel Writing Month. The idea, as I understand it, is to shift you, the would-be writer, off your procrastinating patootie by requiring you to write an entire novel in a single month. Doesn’t matter how good it is, doesn’t matter if it makes 50 Shades of Grey read like the lovechild of Oscar Wilde and Joan Didion. Once you’ve broken through the barrier of “A novel? I couldn’t possibly write a whole novel,” you will have acquired at least some of the discipline and skill necessary to write one that someone else might want to read. That’s the theory, anyway.

I have in the past – no! can it be? – been somewhat snarky about NaNoWriMo. And I am still largely in agreement with Laura Miller, who pointed out, in a wonderful article from a few years ago, that the world is already drowning in lousy fiction, and that what would be genuinely useful is not a whole new crew of writers, but a whole new crowd of committed, passionate, book-buying readers. And yet, I have mellowed some, if only because I have finally admitted my own fiction-writing ambitions. These days, I’m thinking of it this way: We all know that exercise is good for us, that imposing a certain discipline on our slothful, pleasure-loving bodies pays real dividends. If pushed, we would probably admit that the same holds true for our minds, and yet the lure of the Real Housewives, of Buzzfeed, of whatever crap we’re feeding our brains, is just so tough to resist.

Some of our comrades are planning to fight the serious fight this month, sitting down every day with a laptop or – bless’em! – a fountain pen, and actually wrestling thought into coherent form, giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. To be honest, right now that strikes me as the mental equivalent of one of those Body Boot Camp programs, all 80-pound kettlebells and squats at 6 in the morning. Can’t do it. Just can’t do it.

But I can read. And more than that, I can promise – let’s say just for this month – to become a better reader. The program that Miller references (and please do read her article; it’s swell) is awfully ambitious: The people involved vowed to read 100 books between January 1 and October 10, 2010, in 10 categories that were new to them. This is an admirable program, and no doubt builds character like some sort of terrifyingly high-fiber breakfast cereal. But I am a weenie, so I’m going to make it a book a month, and I’m going to open up the list to include books to which I have actually long been attracted, but which somehow never made it to the top of the pile on the nightstand.

This month, I’m going to shoot for two. One is The Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, mostly because my stepmother recommended it to me many years ago. I suspect it will involve turtles, which don’t interest me very much, but I love my stepmother. The other is Miranda Carter’s biography of Anthony Blunt, which I have begun probably half a dozen times and always put down – too long, too heavy, not enough Real Housewives.

More than that, I am promising to read attentively, to note lines and facts that I find pleasing or interesting, and to offer them up to you. I would so love to see anything you might like to offer, in a similar vein. Tell us what you’re reading, either here, on our Facebook page,, or on twitter @felonymayhem, using hashtag #FelonyReads

And now I really will

See you in the stacks.



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