Welcome to Advice in The Stacks, a bookish advice column from me, Traci Thomas, the host and creator of The Stacks podcast. My show is all about books and the people who read them, with new episodes out every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform. Due to the nature of the show I am constantly asked for advice on all things books, so I’m making it formal and bringing my advice to all of you with my monthly column here at SheReads.com.
If you have questions about anything book related, CLICK HERE and submit your question, and then come back the last Thursday of the month to see my advice.
I love to read, but I’m a slow reader. I have a long list of books to read and it’s only getting longer, to the point where adding anything new feels depressing. Do you have any advice? I’ve tried reading multiple books at the same time but found that to be disengaging.
Thank you, Slow in NJ
Have no fear, you’ve asked the right person about this, because I too am a slow reader. Everytime I start a book on my Kindle and it tells me the average reading time of a book according to other readers, I basically have to double that to get a sense of how long it’ll take me.
So, first things first: don’t worry about it. We all read how we read. Most likely, unless you really commit to learning how to speed read, you’ll be a slow reader forever. Accept it. Embrace it. Carry on.
Second, no matter how fast you read there will always be more books on your TBR than you could possibly ever read in your lifetime. Sad, but true. Accept it. Embrace it. Carry on.
I myself am what I call a “one book pony,” as in I only read one book at a time. That has changed a bit since I’ve started reading audiobooks, but for the most part I stand by that descriptor. With the introduction of audiobooks into my reading life I can now read one book with my eyes and one book with my ears at any given time. Having multiple mediums helps me to stay engaged with both books. It also really helps if the books are different in genre or topic so you don’t confuse them.
A slight remix to this idea if you truly are a ride or die, one book pony, read your book in print and on audio. I will sometimes read a book on the page when I have time and then switch over to the audiobook when I’m out on a walk or doing chores. You’ll stay immersed in the same book, but find a little more time in your day to read it. It should also be said that while I am a slow reader, I am a fast listener and often put my audiobooks at 1.5x speed (at least).
Another key for making it through your TBR as a slow reader is to stop reading books you don’t like. Every reader dedicates hours of their lives to any book they chose to read, but for us slow readers, we’re dedicating even more time to our books. Make sure that whatever you decide to read you really want to spend time with. And you can change your mind here. That book with the pretty cover everyone is talking about? Start it, if you’re not vibing, put it down, cross it off your list and move on. I’m naturally a slow reader, but you know what makes me read even slower? When I’m trying to force myself to read something I’m not into. Free yourself.
Here is the last thing I’ll say. While I understand the feeling of despair when you look at your TBR and it is full of books you’re not getting to, it might be helpful to reframe how you think about your TBR. Mine is where I collect all the titles I want to read in one place. I can refer to it if I’m ever not sure what to read next, but more than anything it’s just a receptacle of my most casual literary desires. It isn’t a list I put too much stock in. I turn to it if I need inspiration but I never feel beholden to it. A TBR does not have to be a to-do list. It’s a made up fantasy land where all my books mingle until I invite one to dance.
I hadn’t read a play in years until you got me to read August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean last year—and I LOVED it! Do you have any other recommendations for plays I should add to my list?
As a former drama kid and theatre major, I love when anyone asks me about plays. Thank you for seeing me.
If you liked Gem of the Ocean you must read more of August Wilson’s Century Cycle. Fences is his most famous, and for my money, it is his best. It is simple and so well written, you can’t not see the brilliance in Troy, Rose, and the entire cast. Two others I love are Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or the lesser known Jitney.
The play I Am My Own Wife is extraordinary. The play was written by Doug Wright and premiered on Broadway in 2003 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2004. It is the story of German antiquarian Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who killed her father when she was a young child and survived both the Nazis and Communists in East Berlin as a transgender woman. The play is magnificent.
My favorite living playwright is Lynn Notage and you can’t go wrong with any of her work. One of her earlier plays that I just love set in a similar time period as Gem of the Ocean is Intimate Apparel. It is the story of Esther, a Black seamstress in New York City who sews custom lingerie for her clients. The play follows Esther through her longing and romantic prospects. The language is gorgeous and when I think about it I just feel a sense of yearning.
Anyone who loves Wilson must read Arthur Miller. These two playwrights are writing stories of working-class people trying to make sense of their lives and the worlds around them. The plays focus in on families and communities reckoning with bigger sociopolitical issues and are always going to give you that ending you need. Both Wilson and Miller are dynamic in their storytelling, while holding true to the simplicity they are both known for. I personally love All My Sons and A View from the Bridge. Most people are familiar with Miller’s plays The Crucible and Death of a Salesman (many people compare this to Wilson’s Fences), and those two are certainly worthy of your time.
Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks is a top tier play on both the stage and the page. It is a two man show that focuses on brothers Lincoln and Booth (yes, named for those other two guys) and was first performed in 2001 and won the Pulitzer in 2002. The play is dark and funny which reminds me a lot of August Wilson, a thing many people forget about his work.
Lastly, I’m going to recommend some Shakespeare (don’t roll your eyes at me). I feel strongly that August Wilson is the modern Shakespeare. His stories involve so much drama and the language is rich with poetry. He captures his character’s voices and energy so well through the text alone. For that reason, why not go back and read a little Shakespeare. I would suggest Macbeth because it follows the fallen hero archetype that Wilson writes to so beautifully.
Thank you for your question. Knowing that I’ve played even a tiny role in getting folks to read plays, especially August Wilson’s, makes me beyond happy.
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