I have a recurring experience in which somebody sees a book I’m reading and asks, “what’s that?”. This is usually followed by some bumbling attempt on my part to summarize whatever is the content of what I’m reading. Then a pause. Then the dreaded moment of, “so you read a lot of [some genre here]?”. I dread this question not because there’s anything inappropriate in the query itself but because I have difficulties explaining whatever it is I do read a lot.
First, the genre my interlocutor comes up with is usually based off of a very bad, off-the-cuff description of the book that I just supplied him. For example, I can so mangle a summary of Post’s In Search of Jefferson’s Moose that a person after hearing my jumbled thoughts, reasonably, asks, “so you read a lot of history?”. While it’s true that I read a lot of history, that’s not what Post’s book is really about. In Search of Jefferson’s Moose features arguments based on history, but it’s not really a history of Jefferson, his moose, or even Jefferson’s ideas on ideal government (or the moose’s).
So in finding myself in a right-but-not-quite-right hole that I just dug, I usually answer, “yes, I do like reading history” but then feel the need to add stuff like, “I also read . . .” Without fail, with this follow-up I dig an even bigger hole. For I can never say what it is that I spend so much of my time reading. Yes, I read nonfiction, but what sort of nonfiction? I can’t seem to find the happy labels to describe whatever it is that I read. This isn’t because I’m so unpredictable so that my readings follow no discernible pattern. I’m quite predictable; my interests are not Jeffersonian large; I just can’t find the words.
What about you? Can you tell somebody in a few words what genre/subject areas you usually read? How broad or narrow can you get?