Binge Without Shame

What normally follows a binge is regret. What did I say? What did I do? Did I offend anyone? Did I smoke cigarettes? Fuck up any important relationships?

Two weeks ago, Charlie and I played golf on a Friday morning and had our neighbors over that afternoon. On Saturday I thought, “Did they all know we were hammered?”

I have often said that while we have friends who are adults, Charlie and I are merely “adulting.” We’re faking it and just hoping Hollie doesn’t figure it out before she’s self-sufficient enough to get over it.

One such symptom of my gross irresponsibility is my reading addiction. I’ve been known to ignore my family for days over a particularly good series and right now I’m in the middle of the second such series since August.

The first was by Juliet Marillier and fell into the epic fantasy category with world-building, mythology, and characters taking long journeys. This one has a few journeys, too, but the journeys aren’t the story. This series, by Deborah Harkness, is literary fantasy. It’s chock full of historical detail (the writer is a history professor) and weaves magical elements in it so convincingly that it could all be true.

Vampires, witches, demons, all of it. Totally true.

My enemy in this binge-reading habit is always time. When I was in graduate school and reading on deadlines, I devised a way to determine how much time I would need to finish the assignment. I’d begin every book by timing how much of it I could read in 10 minutes. Then I’d calculate the time needed to finish the book before the next class meeting.

Now I let my Kindle tell me how many more minutes in the chapter and I reward more productive work with chapters. I use the Audible app for audio books and let it give me segment times. I sit in parking lots upon arrival waiting to finish a segment before getting out of the car.

Binge reading is hardly a fatal addiction. While it may cause some marital discord when I ignore my husband for a good book, there are few real down sides to be a bibliophile. As a writer, binge reading is one of the best habits one can have.

There’s not a successful writer out there who would not recommend “Read” as their best advice for aspiring writers.

A good binge read can solve narration, character, or plot problems in my work. I’m convinced of perspective’s role in storytelling. When I wonder why a perspective has shifted, it reminds me to go back to my own work and reconsider whether the perspective I’m using is the right one.

A good binge read can inspire new stories. When an author takes on a topic I have some thoughts about (as Jojo Moyes did with the right to die in Me Before You or John Green did with cancer kids in The Fault in Our Stars) I’m inspired to respond with my own fictional experience. Or when a writer investigates the untold stories of secondary characters in classic fiction (as Geoffrey Maquire did in Wicked) or re-purposes fairytales (as Marissa Meyer did with The Lunar Chronicles), I’m inspired to tell my own versions of the history we know.

A good binge read can bring us out of the chaos of today and soak us in the fantasy and possibility of fiction. Like a long bath or a long run for working out tense muscles, a binge read can provide the distance we need to recharge.

So here’s what I’ve been binge reading. It’s not a comprehensive list. I’ve taken down 41 fiction titles so far this year and not all of them are recommend-able. Here’s the list in order of unbelievable awesomeness.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

The writer who brought us Water for Elephants has done it again. I don’t typically like magical realism but when it’s done this beautifully, it’s hard to resist.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

You can’t get bogged down with the history/alchemy/bibliophile nerdiness of this book. Just wade in with optimism and Harkness will reward you.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

This takes a surprising romance-novel-like turn that pays off big time. It’s a great read with more fantasy than romance, compelling main characters that break the mold, and world-building that feels familiar and well-researched.

The best part of an awesome book is finding out there are second, third, and maybe even fourth installments. My top two books of all time:

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Both books caused the worst book hangovers ever. That’s another downfall of the binge read: the book hangover. You know the feeling, when you loved a book so much you can’t believe it’s over and whatever title you pick up next just has no chance of competing?

Book hangover.

One can only hope to slip into another binge, another awesome series, to avoid the inevitable and put off the book hangover for as long as possible.

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