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’m such a completionist in my reading—I have a hard time setting aside a book (for now? Forever?). How do you think about books you just don’t want to stick with?
Cheers, To Follow Through Or Not
Put the book down. Truly. You do not need to finish that book. Unless you are being paid to read it, or have to read it for work, or school, or some other serious obligation (not book club), you do not need to finish the book.
And let me just ask you back: why are you feeling compelled to finish the book? Is it just because you started it? Do you think someone will judge you if they find out that you didn’t finish? Why do you think someone else cares about what books you read? Do you even care about what someone else thinks of your reading life? Are you worried you’ll hurt the author’s feelings? Or The book’s feelings? Why do you want to finish a book you’re not enjoying? Why did you pick the book up in the first place? Why do you read? Is it for pleasure? If you don’t like the book you’re reading, are you reading for pleasure?
I can’t answer any of these questions for you, but I do think you should think about them, because that might get at the root of why you feel bad when you decide to not finish a book.
For me, I will put a book down if it is not a work obligation. Obviously, with the podcast, I do have to read some books to the end that I would otherwise have never picked up or would have promptly put down.
I think about it like this: if I read 100 books a year, and live for another 50 years (at least, I hope) I will still only read 5,000 more books. That is a mere 5,000 out of the millions of books that exist in the world. Do I really want to waste any of those 5,000 books on something I am not enjoying?
I also think about all the TV shows and movies I have never finished. There are so many. I don’t think there is the same pressure for people to finish a TV series they’re not into—so why should we apply undue stress on reading?
If I don’t like it, why would I waste my time?
That’s my motto, and I humbly offer it to you. Take the pressure off. Reading should be enjoyable and exciting and should fill you up. It shouldn’t be a chore or a source of anxiety or annoyance.
Finally, let me leave you with this: if you put the book down you can always pick it up again. The book will still be there, waiting for you, if you decide it is the right time to give it another go.
I am so interested in doing the 10 books, 10 decades challenge—but unsure of how to even begin picking books from previous decades. What are some books you would recommend? Help!
Thanks, Up For The Challenge
For those who don’t know, the #10Books10Decades challenge is a reading challenge created by my brilliant friend and fellow podcaster, Reggie Bailey. It is pretty straightforward, in the course of the calendar year you’re asked to read 10 different books from 10 different decades. The books need to be published in those decades (not taking place in those decades). You can pick any ten decades you want. You can pick any kind of book you want, as long as they are written in ten different decades.
I love this challenge because it always forces me to read more widely. I love exploring what my options are for each decade. I had Reggie on The Stacks Unabridged (the bonus show of The Stacks’ patreon) and we talked in detail about the challenge—and you should 1000% check it out, because he offers so many gems.
As far as how I approach the challenge, I try to just read as I normally would, and then toward the end of the year I look at my reading tracker (also a perk for my patreon people) and see how many decades I have read so far. Then I fill them in based on what is on my TBR (to-be-read) list. I also always try to include as many different types of genres as possible: Graphic novel, memoir, poetry, short stories, plays, and on and on. Mixing it up helps to make this challenge feel super inclusive of literature over a long period of time.
Since you asked for help getting started, here are books I’ve read over the years that hit different decades!
Macbeth by William Shakespeare – 1600s
I love reading plays. Especially reading backlist titles to see how theater was similar and different over time. I picked Macbeth because it is one of my favorites, however any Shakespeare play is a great place to look if you really want to hit some long ago decades.
Passing by Nella Larson – 1920s
You can’t go wrong with this book. We did an episode on it for the podcast, and there is a movie version on Netflix as well that you can enjoy after reading the book. Passing is so propulsive and accessible, trust me, you want to read this book.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 1930s
This book is my problematic fave. I know, I’m sorry. The heart wants what it wants. I think this challenge is your chance to read a major clunker (like this) you’ve been wanting to read for a long time. While it’s an intimidating classic, it will give the accomplishment of finishing the book that much more gravity. It doesn’t have to be this book, you could read The Brothers Karamazov (1880s), or Middlemarch (1870s), or Little Women (1860s), or whatever your heart desires. Be brave.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White – 1950s
I always try to include at least one children’s book that I loved growing up in my #10Books10Decades challenge. I did it with this book the first year I participated and then read The Outsiders (1967) last year. It’s fun to think back on who I was when I fell in love with the books and how I’m thinking about them now.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley – 1960s
You’ve got to include at least one memoir or biography from a decade gone by. It’s so interesting to read how language has evovled and how we talk about issues in similar and different ways from generations past. This book is a classic that a lot of people are intimated to pick up, but trust me here: it’s a must read. Also, don’t worry, I’ve got an episode on this book as well with the great Marc Lamont Hill.
Sula by Toni Morrison – 1970s
Toni Morrison has published books in five different decades, so any of her books would be a great choice for this challenge. Sula is my pick because it is incredible and short, and there is an episode of The Stacks dedicated to it with guest, Brit Bennett, so you can’t go wrong.
Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – 1980s
Another book that has been turned into a movie for your viewing pleasure after reading the book. It’s billed as a novel, but I’ve heard Tan say she thought of the book as a collection of interconnected stories, so that’s a fun way to mix things up.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – 1990s
I love this book so much. Jon Krakuer is easily one of my favorite writers, and this was my introduction to his work. This book feels very 90s in tone, style and content. He was one of the first journalists I ever read in book form—and Into Thin Air has to be what got me hooked on nonfiction for life.
Good Talk by Mira Jacob – 2010s
For the later decades I always try to lean into something that feels “of the time” and nothing quite embraces the end of the 2010s like the election of Trump and his presidency. In Good Talk, Mira Jacob embraces graphic memoir to talk about talking about Trump and what he meant and means to her nine year old son. Brilliant.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio- 2020s
I doubt you need help finding a book from this decade, but in case you do, let me just toss out this incredible work of nonfiction. It is about immigration and is written with such bravado and style it already feels deeply emblematic of this moment in writing. And yes, there are two episodes (one with the author, and one for the book club) of The Stacks to go along with this book.
So that is a just one pass of #10Books10Decades. Trust me there are a million different combinations. I encourage you to read all the books you’ve always wanted to read, but felt like you didn’t have the time. Indulge. Or you can take another approach and read all books by queer authors across ten decades, or all poetry collections. You can do whatever you want and that’s whats so fun here. Don’t panic; embrace the opportunities.
If you’re at a loss be sure to follow Reggie on Instagram, because he is always sharing ideas and he even has an entire bookshop.org page dedicated to the challenge. Enjoy!