Home > Uncategorized > A Year Under the Influences (part one): A Reading List is Formed

A Year Under the Influences (part one): A Reading List is Formed

A recent post on Book Riot (by Amanda of Dead White Guys) about “The Influence of Twitter on a Reader” had me thinking about how Twitter, among several other resources for learning about new books and authors, was informing my choices of reading material. Such thinking, as is wont to do in this era of publicly voicing many random thoughts through those same social media avenues, provoked me into tweeting “gonna start tracking reason I chose books I read.”

The well-meaning folk who monitor and maintain the @BookRiot twitter feed took my off-the-cuff oath as truth and immediately asked to be informed as to the results of my “great project.”

So, in the matter of seconds (literally, SECONDS), we moved from random thought to “project.”

The power of new media, eh?

Several false starts and bottles of Smithwick’s Irish Ale later, I think I managed to sort a year’s worth of reading into categories roughly describing where I heard of the book or what prompted me to read it or some combination thereof. Some books needed multiple designations; either I couldn’t recall specifically why I was moved to start in on them, or the relevance of secondary (and tertiary?) causes were too strong to ignore.

According to my Goodreads account, I finished 55 in the 365 days preceding my attempting to curate the list. Hence…

(Authors on) Twitter Told Me To!

  • Obedience by Will Lavender
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • Locke & Key (Volumes 1-3) by Joe Hill
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

11% of total (6 of the 55 books I read) with an 83% success rate (truly enjoyed 5 of the 6)

Only Obedience was a let-down here, which is also disappointing because I only heard of Lavender due to something he tweeted. I then followed him and was pretty amused by his antics. I was certain it was fated I’d adore his book. Unfortunately…let’s just say it wasn’t close.

Still, dude is pretty decent on the Twitter.

Joe Hill is a curious case for me. My wife had read Heart-Shaped Box a few years ago and insisted I put it on the pile. For whatever reason, the mood never seemed to strike. This is a bit odd because I also learned, when The Missus recommended it, that Stephen King had a son who writes and that Joe Hill was he. King having been my first true literary love going all the way back to fifth grade (1980), even now I’m a little surprised I didn’t just start reading it that night.

But, I didn’t and then continued to didn’t for a long while, even after I stumbled onto and proceeded to be amused by his Twitter feed. I even think it was Peter Straub, via his own Twitter account, who originally got me to look into Hill. This is somewhat notable because it is solely because of a tweet by Straub that led me to snag Sag Harbor from the library, introducing me to a writer who ranks among (I would not care to give an order to it) my two favorite contemporary authors and has easily one of the most fun Twitter feeds going.

And, just to be complete here, I don’t really remember who was responsible for me hearing about Charles Yu, but I do remember it being a Twitter thing.

He writes, I read

  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson
  • John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  • Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Embassytown by China Miéville

13% of the list with a 71% success rate (I enjoyed 5 of the 7)

Everything here is written by someone I’ve read prior and enjoyed well enough to just assume I’d like something/anything else they have written.

When I initially created this category, it optimistically was called “He/She writes, I read,”  but upon completion, it was clear that one of those pronouns was extraneous. Please don’t tell Jennifer Weiner.

Several authors I read for the first time this year will belong to this category next time they publish something. For the purposes of this particular piece of accounting, however, they don’t get to be counted among the justifiably Whitehead-heavy (read Sag Harbor late last year and am now playing ‘catch-up’) list. My persistent paranoia about this grouping is that I keep reading new authors I like, which will end up clogging my ‘to read’ pile to the point where I don’t branch out as much to read new (to me) writers or make some small headway into older books I just have yet to read.

NPR Books Twitter and Facebook Feeds

  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  • Low Town by Daniel Polansky
  • Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
  • Red on Red by Edward Conlon
  • Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason by Mike Sacks

11% of total with a 50% success rate

I was actually fairly surprised to see as many books coming from NPR’s social media feeds as there were. Though, having gone back and tried to locate the articles I believe I remembered reading, I’m not 100% on the Polansky book having come from there, but have to leave it because I cannot honestly even imagine where else I would have heard about it.

NPR seems to have been a real hit-or-miss proposition for me. The Last Werewolf, Low Town, and Knockemstiff were easily three of my favorite titles I took in the last 12 months, while Red on Red, Blood, Bones and Butter, and Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason were some cloying combination of disappointment and annoyance.

New York Times Book Review

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  • The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

7% of total with a 75% success rate

But, to be fair, this particular source probably feeds me more titles, by far, than any other. A friend and coworker regularly delivers to me small stacks of the New York Times Book Review from her subscription as a means of recycling and sharing. I appreciate them, Judith, only all too much. Hence, the NYT is probably also more heavily responsible for the growth of my ‘to read’ pile than anyone else, but their contributions go through a much heavier screening process than the others. I mean, even to be reviewed in those pages would have been an arduous path to take to get in front of my eyes. Then, it’s usually a well-written review with some element of the book exposed that tickles some interest of mine. It’s a lot. Hence, the real surprise isn’t that I found three of four books delightful, rather that I found the fourth to be entirely pointless. Well, that, and that despite several dozen reviews consumed, I only bothered to actually read four!

Someone Turned/Is Going to Turn It Into Something Else (with a giant marketing budget)

  • The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman
  • Priest: Genesis – Volumes 1-3 by Min-Woo Hyung
  • Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
  • Repo Men by Eric Garcia
  • WAR by Sebastian Junger
  • What We Do Is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillsbery
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

13% of the total with a 42% success rate

I wouldn’t have thought I was this easily influenced by the conversion of the written word into a television show or film, but the numbers don’t lie. That’s as more than any other category other than books written by people with whom I have an established and pleasant author-reader relationship.

The success rate, however, leads me to believe that maybe it’s time to bolster the filter for these books, at the very least. The two graphic novels (Walking Dead and Priest) were, at least, quick to get through. Also, I actually only got to page seven of What We Do Is Secret before realizing there was no way in hell I was going to finish it without losing my mind, as it’s written in a style reminiscent of spoken-word performance art. DEFINITELY not for me. Prefer my punk-rock histories a little more straight-forward, thank you.

To further demean using this as a reliable way to find new reads, The Art of Fielding is on here mostly on a technicality. I DID first read about it in an article about HBO having had already optioned it well before publication. The real reason I ended up reading it, however, was probably partially due to the pre-publication hype and even a little bit due to baseball being part of the subject matter, but largely because a friend/coworker (thanks Seth!) offered his copy of it after he read it. From everything I’ve heard and read about it since, I’d likely have sought it out by now, but the fact of the matter is that it was sheer opportunity, with a nudge of understated recommendation by the person lending it, who is also a fellow sports fan.

All of which is to say that the numbers here turn out to be even worse than they appear, success rate-wise, and that’s even before considering that WAR might should also not count because of the it being a documentary.

Basically, just because some folks in Hollywood like something enough to sink a lot of money into a project based on it, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs read. I hope I remember this going forward.

Okay, those are the bigger categories I managed to identify. I tried to cull a few other scattered ideas together under a cohesive thought, but they all rung somewhat false, so I’m going to stick with these as the heavy-hitters.

I may also be looking at adjusting the near future, book-wise, in consideration of these findings.

So…how do YOU find yourself being influenced in how you choose the books you read?

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