Books Promiscuously Read: Reading as a Way of Life by Heather Cass White

My Rating: 2 stars

Many thanks to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and NetGalley for the ARC! This book is being released today, Tuesday July 6th 2021.

So I requested Books Promiscuously Read because it was labeled on NetGalley has a memoir focused on the author’s life as a reader. It is not. White doesn’t discuss her life at all. In fact, I think I noted only one place where she even used the first person. Rather, it’s a kind of exploration on how and why we read. But I felt confused about it’s purpose due the major difference in the tone of the first part and the others.

The first section, titled “Propositions” contains pithy statements about reading, books, and readers. Some include: “Reading creates minds in its image,” “A reader should read every day, and “Books are a realm of unreason.” Each statement is followed by a page or two of explanation. I was bored during this part. It seems like the author is trying to be insightful, but honestly it came off as vague and pretentious to me. None of it felt particularly relatable as a reader, and I didn’t any deep truths about why I or anyone else reads. Honestly, I almost stopped reading after the first few “Propositions” because I didn’t want to read a full book of this.

Luckily, White does not continue with this format for the rest of the book. She turns instead to a more academic discussion of reading in works of literature, including Frankenstein, Middlemarch, and the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. As a literature student, this part was more engaging for me, but I wasn’t in the mood for an academic read. This isn’t the book’s fault; it’s mainly an issue with the way NetGalley categorized the book. If it hadn’t been placed in the biography and memoir category, I probably wouldn’t have requested it. Despite this, I did find White’s insights into these books interesting, and I may revisit them when I’m in the right mood. These sections do feel tonally at odds with the first section, and I didn’t feel the two worked together well. I would have preferred a straight academic book without the “Propositions.”

Overall, Books Promiscuously Read wasn’t what I expected and wasn’t the book for me, but there is certainly an audience for the academic portions.

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