Friday, February 24, 2017

The Game of Reading, Redux

Last June, I introduced my plan to embark on a “Game of Reading” that would structure my reading and audiobook listening by limiting my choices to a “hand” of ten cards. To start reading a book, I would have to play an appropriate card; having done so, I would draw a new card from the “deck” in order to have ten new cards available the next time I started a book. The game was set up to encourage rereading, with the deck heavily seeded with books I had read in the past.

After I introduced the idea I checked in twice in July to tell you how it was going, but since then haven’t said a word. So, you might be a little surprised to hear I am still playing the Game of Reading. I like it a lot! It’s fun!

People give me two types of reaction when I explain the Game. A polite, mild statement to the effect that “that’s a neat idea” is the norm, indicating that the listener is hoping that I will stop talking about the Game of Reading now. The other reaction is a gleeful prediction that I will be forced into a miserable reading experience, followed by outrage that I haven’t created an actual physical deck of cards (I manage the deck in an Excel spreadsheet). This latter reaction shows that someone “gets it.”

Now, it’s true that I haven’t always been thrilled by my available choices in the moment, so far I have been uniformly delighted in retrospect about what the Game has forced me to read. Not only have I never “cheated,” I have so far never even been tempted. I got trained pretty quickly to the idea that since starting a book means playing a card, and since playing a card means drawing a card, and since drawing a card is quite fun – somewhere between opening a Christmas present and making a bet – starting a book, even a formidable book, has become quite an event.

I tinkered with and “reshuffled” the deck at the new year, when all the books I read in 2012 entered play. The individual titles now make up 331 cards. The other half, more or less, of the now 650 cards are like so:
65 Unrestricted New Book Cards
67 Genre Cards ("Science Fiction," "Western," "History," etc)
34 “International” Cards ("From the German," "From the Italian," "African," "Indian," etc)
33 Challenge Cards (a real grab-bag of categories of books that I would find difficult)
39 “Ask” Cards (In which I ask people to assign me a book.)
40 “Game” cards (Which allow or compel me to do game-like things with the cards in my hand.)
For a sample of the action, here’s what’s in my hand right now and how I’m thinking of playing the cards I’ve been dealt.

Card 263 [2016 Deck]: The Bridge on the Drina
This is a really fine novel, but it is by no means easygoing, so this card has been sitting in my hand for quite a while. I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d buy my own copy. In fact, there. I just did.
Card 498 [2016 Deck]: Ask J***
I’ve drawn six other “Ask” cards, and they’ve all been interesting and fun one way or the other. My favorite moment was when Nichim assigned me a title that wasn’t available at the library, and I asked if I could read a different book by the same author. “No,” she said. “You know how to use interlibrary loan.” She gets The Game of Reading!
I’m not sure, however, that J*** gets the Game of Reading. She assigned me Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II, I think because she was trying to force herself to read it at the time. I’ve got a library copy upstairs right now! I’ve had it for quite some time. I’ve been hoping that one of the “Game” cards would come along and let me discard it – but see Card 320, below.
Card 273 [2016 Deck]: The Time Traveler's Wife
I listened to this one the first time through, so I thought I’d eye-read it this time. I had it out from the library for a while, but didn’t get around to playing the card.
Card 78 [2016 Deck]: Rabbit Redux
One of the rules of the Game is that for serial fiction, a card can be used for any entry in the series. My logical choices for Card 78 would be to try again with Rabbit is Rich, which I abandoned halfway through the first time around, or to go back to the original, Rabbit, Run. I broke for the latter option, and have an audio version ready to go.
Christmas Free Book!
To facilitate Deck maintenance and allow for the possibility of incoming gift books, I gave myself two unrestricted free books for Christmas. I used one of them on Adam Thorpe’s Ulverton, which incidentally I found pretty darn interesting. This second one is still in my hand – you don’t want to be careless with your unrestricted cards!
Card 457: Other Non-Fiction
Yeah, I wasn’t sure what “Other Non-Fiction” meant either. From context, I figured out that I meant “Non-Fiction Other Than History.” My plan was to use this card to listen to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (which, despite the title, is not really history in the conventional sense). Then, oddly, I drew Card 331, A Short History of Nearly Everything, so I’m currently using that card to listen to the Bryson. That freed up this card, for which I’ve downloaded a well-reviewed book about materials science.
Card 497: Unrestricted New Book
I drew this card ten days ago. Who knows what I’ll do with it!
Card 320: Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
I really can’t see myself reading this book a second time. It replaces Munich, 1938 as the book that I’ll pitch overboard first if one of the Game cards gives me the option. That means that drawing this card puts more pressure on me to actually read J***’s selection. Maybe that’s a good thing!
Card 321: Resurrection Men (Inspector Rebus, #13)
Yay, serial detective fiction! I’ve downloaded Standing in Another Man’s Grave, the 18th Inspector Rebus novel, and am looking forward to a fresh installment of Scottish gloom.
Card 396: Unrestricted New Book
I drew this a few hours ago, when I played the Timon of Athens card that I’d been sitting on for a few months. It felt like virtue rewarded to decide on the difficult text and receive the reward of being able to read whatever I want sometime in the near future. Of course, if I wasn’t playing the Game of Reading, I could always read whatever I wanted. But if I wasn’t playing the Game of Reading, it wouldn’t be such a treat!

And that’s the state of play. What are you reading, lately?


Morgan said...

Just so you know, I love these posts.

I've been reading Dune lately! I tried to read it when I was a lot younger and thought it was awful. People kept telling me it was some sort of shining example of science fiction literature, so I picked it up again for cheap at Powell's, and I have been absolutely adoring it this time around.

Michael5000 said...

I read Dune in high school and thought it was kind of good and bad at the same time. It was certainly tainted later by the film adaptation, which is arguably so bad it's good, but equally arguably just plain bad.

For those tracking the Game on their home scorecards: (1) I played Card 457 on "Stuff Matters," a welterweight book on materials science, and drew Card 569, "Read something from before [I tracked my reading on] Goodreads." (2) When I finished that, I played Card 321, the Inspector Rebus, and drew Card 562, also "Reading something from before Goodreads." I made a short census of books on the living room shelves that have been calling my name for a while, so (3) after I finished the Shakespeare I played #569 on Richard Russo's "Nobody's Fool." I drew Card #215, the excellent but dark City of Thieves. Last October, I drew City of Thieves but then dumped it with a "Return One Card" card. This time around, with Dominion and Munich, 1938 gumming up the works, I will probably eventually get cornered into reading it. Which is the beauty of the system, of course.