I thought I was being so clever, taking a job as, in effect, a professional reader. I had already arranged my career as a librarian as much as possible so that it was in sync with my favorite hobby—why not go whole hog?
What I didn't realize was that becoming a professional reader would effectively take away what most readers love about reading—that it is recreation.
Let's stop right here to dispel a few myths. Nobody in the book business does what laypeople imagine we do, that is, sit around all day reading and eating bonbons and being paid for it. We read when you read: over breakfast, lunch break, at the gym, on the bus, in the waiting room at the doctor's, in line at the post office…I had no fantasies of being paid for eight hours of reading and bonbon-eating.
But what I didn't fully understand was how thoroughly my professional reading would consume my reading time. For one thing, there's choice. I have very little. I do my best to read books that are recommended for stars to ensure that I concur with the reviewer's opinion, and, similarly, I do the same with books that receive savage reviews. Mind you, I read an awful lot of great books this way, as well as the expected number of stinkers. What I don't get to do much is pick for myself. In years when I am reading for an award committee, my opportunities for discretionary reading shrink to just about zero.
And it’s really not a hardship, because, after all, I chose to be a professional reader for reason. I love reading, and I usually bump into enough outstanding books to compensate for the lousy ones even without choosing.
I always have to think about what I'm reading, though, and take notes, and be ready to write about it when I'm finished. There's a level of vigilance required of the professional reader that typically isn't engaged when reading for fun. I actually like this; "dissecting" books in high school didn't turn me off, it excited me. I typically appreciate a book more after taking notes, prewriting a review in my head and then setting it down on the computer screen. This direct engagement almost always makes me appreciate a book more than if I just read it for fun.
But every once in a while, you just gotta have fun with a book, if only to remember why you chose this crazy profession in the first place. That's why I gave myself a vacation and read Kristin Cashore's new book, Bitterblue. I had read her earlier two books, Graceling and Fire, after receiving star recommendations from my reviewer—professionally that is. I loved them as much as my reviewer did. These complex heroines grappled with their meticulously realized fantasy worlds in ways that were both thoroughly satisfying in literary terms and frankly inspiring on human ones.
So last winter, when I received an advance mailing of Bitterblue, the long-awaited companion to Cashore's first two books, I decided to read it. Just. For. FUN. I didn't take a single note. I didn't prewrite a single line. I left that to my reviewer, who begged for an extra 50 words for her review in a note that began, "OMG. *Bitterblue*." I just let Cashore's assured prose carry me into the crucible that is teenage Queen Bitterblue's coming-of-age and gave myself over to my total identification with the character and absorption in her adventure.
In short, I gave myself a 576-page vacation. Do yourself a favor and take a vacation, too. Like all the best vacations, it ends all too soon, but you'll return to work feeling 100 percent rested.Vicky Smith is the children's and teen editor at Kirkus.