It’s that season again. The season where I need to read all the things becomes I have to read all the things, or I am not worthy to nominate!!!!!. The season where I, once again, face up to the frankly over-developed Reader’s Guilt monster and try to reassess my obligation as a reader.
If you’re even remotely plugged into the speculative-fiction community, you’ve heard it tje last few months: Nominate for the Nebulas by this date! Hugo nominations close on March 26! Locus Recommended Reading List! Stoker Nominations! World Fantasy Award! Best-of Collections! Nominate, nominate, nominate; vote, vote, vote.
As an editor, this season makes me very, very happy. I love seeing people I know on the nomination lists, and I particularly like seeing new folks up there. I aspire to be on those lists someday.
As a reader, I loathe awards season. Why? Because I can’t read everything, and I feel like I should have. I struggle enough with figuring out and following my obligations as an editor and sometimes-writer, and reader’s guilt is just another leg on that monster.
It’s a familiar conundrum for the speculative reader: while the writers and fans mourn the closing of another magazine, readers struggle with the need to prioritize and choose favorites; sometimes by the sheer default of a publication being more readily available, prettier, there at the right time, available in hardcopy softcopy ecopy downloadtoyourbraincopy.
Anyways, this is something I’m particularly struggling with this year. For the first time, I’m reading books and magazines that are eligible, and I’m even reading them reasonably close to their publication. I feel like I should be able to voice opinions on stories I’d like to see win Hugos and Nebulas and Stokers, even if I’m not able to nominate for all of them. (This time of year is also when I remember that I’m eligible for most of these organizations–as an editor–and that I’ve simply…forgotten.)
Where do I start? I loved The King’s Last Song so much I need to reread it. Charles Yu’s Standard Loneliness Package is one of the most haunting short stories I’ve ever read. I’ve read a dozen short stories that I want to nominate, but I can’t remember where they were. I haven’t read some books that I know are going to be awesome, and I’ve slogged through a couple that left a bad taste in my mouth.
My biggest problem, however, is that most of the novels I read last year were either published in 2009, aren’t eligible for the award, or, uh, were ARCs. Yes, I started to nominate an ARC before I realized that I was trying to live in the future. Calendars and I are uneasy allies.
And I did start to nominate some favorite works, and then I started seeing the recommended lists…and deleted my nominations, ashamed and frustrated, because I haven’t read enough to choose the right things.
The problem is: I’ll never be able to read enough. I already follow Fantasy, Lightspeed, Apex, Realms of Fantasy, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shock Totem, Weird Tales, BullSpec, Electric Velocipede, and Black Static. I’m planning to subscribe to Black Gate and Fantasy and Science Fiction this year. There are several dozen more magazines equally worthy of attention and love, these just happen to be the ones that appeal to my tastes to some degree or another.
I can’t read every story in there, not while also being fair to my own slush piles and the help I give to other independent magazines, reading books, working, editing, living.
Books are their own problem. Hundreds are published every year, and the reader has the terrible, wonderful obligation to pick which ones to commit to. Even just friends and favorite authors could fill up that shelf for me. I generally manage to finish about 1 book a week. Even with rounding up, that means I can only read between 60-70 books in a year. Not all of those will be new books, because I came to the genre fairly recently, and need to catch up. And yes, my reading speed is unusually high.
But maybe that’s ok. I don’t have to Read All the Things. I need to read what I can, to make notes when a story particularly influences or moves me. I need to seek out stories from favorite authors and new authors; to read things that make me smile and even more things that make me cringe; to find a balance between stories I want to read vs. what other people want me to read; to vary my reading between the many wonderful magazines and publishers; to refrain from nominating a book ‘because everyone says it’s great’ and nominate it because it got under my skin and left a bit of itself.
I need to be honest with myself about the level to which other people’s opinions affect my own choices: social media, reviews, interviews, political or religious affiliation; personal interactions; even third-party anecdotes.
I can’t read all the things that are worthy of being read, not in this lifetime, let alone everything that is published. I can’t nominate all the ‘right’ things for an award. I can’t give in to the impulse to take every eligible story and run it through elaborate comparisons and algorithms to make sure it’s actually better than all of the other eligible stories.
At the end of the day, my obligation as a reader is the same as my obligation as an editor: to find the stories that make me laugh or hurt or get angry, and say ‘hey, this story changed my life a little. I think it should get an award.’