As some of you know, I am writing a fiction series. The first book is currently at the self-editing stage, the second exists as an outline, and the third is more concept than reality at this point in time. If you know an agent who loves all things girlboss, food, and unconventional love, then I’m that agent’s person and it would be great if you could introduce us. I have a feeling we’d have fun conversations. For now, I’m so grateful for the privilege this lifestyle affords — creativity, the ability to make my own schedule, and having my time valued as much at home as it is by society — whether or not my work finds commercial success.
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies. There are days I have writer’s block so bad I can’t see straight, there are days I am fully capable but still dread writing (usually when a scene hits too close to home), and there are days I feel like I could write for days but then, invariably, life has other plans. This is all normal, I’m learning, and that learning is at least half my enjoyment at this stage. The other half is a mixture of generalized giddiness and an acute sense of purpose. I am blessed beyond measure.
There is, however, one thing about which I am constantly in conflict — unhappily at that (yes, it’s possible to have conflict and also to be happy, and no, this is not one of those times). As part of my early writing process, I’ve become exceptionally selective about what I read. That’s the political way of saying I haven’t done much reading at all — not if you don’t count the the things I’ve read as research for the series I’m currently writing. That’s work … and that’s different.
Those who know me will find this shocking. Those who don’t may also have some questions about my choice — and with good reason. While I’m generally not here for making people feel like they have to justify every decision they make, in this case, an explanation is 100% warranted, so I’m bossing up and sharing it. Here it goes:
I am first and foremost an empath. This means when I experience something, I tend to absorb it right down to my core. This is true whether the object of my concern is connected to me superficially or on the deepest levels. So, as a measure of both professional responsibility and as a way to guard my tender heart, I decided to step back from the heavy work that is losing oneself in the midst of others.’
At the time of this decision, I was all-too-caught-up in the security blanket that reading afforded me. Under the heading of “reading” all I’d really been doing was silencing myself, like I’d been doing for as long as I can remember, just under different titles and pretenses. Thankfully, with some chutzpah and an incredible support network, I put a stop to that behavior, hard as it was to do.
Come to think of it, taking reading away from myself was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make. Necessary, but incredibly difficult. Especially because I had no idea when, if ever (it felt like), I’d allow myself to have it back in the same way — voracious reading, selfish reading, all-hours-of-the-day-and-night reading, the kind of reading people spend lifetimes reading and writing about.
My decision might be controversial, but it definitely paid off, because here I am, book one nearly done, looking ahead to the future, and having trouble deciding if I want to smile or cry from the sense of pride and accomplishment I didn’t know I could feel.
Then there’s the matter of what else this means.
Now that I have a strong handle on my own writer’s voice, and what I’m able and willing to contribute to this strange blue planet, I know I can trust myself to move forward, uncompromising in the special nature of these gifts, but flexible enough to allow myself back in to the metaphorical sandbox of life’s many wonders.
Looking ahead, past the heaviness of actually doing this life, I have a lighter, companion ambition in mind. The first order of business is to restore my reading privileges — though believe me when I say I’ll be monitoring myself for the types of behavior that inspired me to take my earlier hiatus (self-doubt, being overly self-critical, obsessive editing for no good reason, etc.). Those of you who know me in real life, please continue helping me in this regard. You’re all trailblazers — especially those of you who, without any promise of recognition, unwaveringly stand alongside me as I do the messy, uncoordinated work of clearing paths in the first place.
Now we get to the fun part!
Starting this month, there will be a new category on this blog. I’m going to call it The LibraRYAN, a playful reference to both my name and my love for reading. Each month, I’ll select a topic or theme, pick a few books that fit into that category, and share my experiences with them. To be clear, the resulting posts will be more personal essay than book review, and that is by design.
I do more “review-y” work through the Reading Words category, and that will remain a space dedicated to thoughts on specific works, presented one at a time, with the near sole intention of promoting that good work. I stand by that category, and will hopefully have reason to populate it with new content soon, but its greatest strength is also one of its greatest limitations — it leaves no room for you. The conversation basically begins and ends with “there is this great thing, and I want to make sure you know about it, because it is a great thing.”
At this point in my career and life, that feels pithy. I’m not in middle school. I don’t do book reports anymore (there’s a time and place for that, it’s just not here or now). I’m also not a book critic, in personality or by choice, so instead of making my singular commentary meatier and/or more cutting, I’d like to elevate the blog overall by including more voices, more frequently, in the hopes of building (or maybe simply inspiring?) a stronger community. If indeed you’ve read this far (a large ask, I’m aware), you’re probably wondering, “great, Ryan, but how will you do this?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
The answer: The LibraRYAN.
Many of you are readers — or else, why would you be here, certainly at this juncture in a long blog post. As far as I’m concerned, there are endless opportunities to connect through this shared identity, and the internet can feel like a super isolating place, so I’d like to address both of those points in one swoop. With The LibraRYAN (a new category on this blog, not a new standalone project), we’ll get to read some neat books together, which we’ve chosen together, and then, together, respond. Other than timeline and topic specificity, and my request (insistence, actually) that we keep things civil (differences of opinion never need to degenerate into attacks of any kind, ever), the rest can evolve as we do. Here’s how I see this starting at the very least:
At the end of each month, I’ll select a topic or theme to guide our reading and conversations for the month to come. I will announce that here, on the blog, as well as on social media (@rvmcgonigle). Once that happens, I’m happy to consider all thoughtful recommendations for what we could read until the first day of the month we’re intending to read them. By the end of that week, we’ll have our list of possible reads. You may choose as many or as few as you like from the list. No matter which books we choose, we’ll all have the rest of the month to read them and reflect on our experiences (pictures, essays, drawings, the options are pretty endless). By the last week of the month, I’ll post an essay, and you’re welcome to either share or guard your individual response, whatever makes you feel happy and safe. Either way, the cool part is that we’ll have already shared these specific experiences, and by extension, made the world a little bigger and a little smaller at the same time. Think about that for a minute … pretty neat, right?
Since I dislike procrastination, let’s kick this off right now, with March 2020 being our “starting month.” Welcome to The LibraRYAN Reading Group, loves. I’m so glad you’re here.
The LibraRYAN: March 2020 Reading Group
This month, we’ll focus on love and/or marriage. Suggested works may include both topics or just one. I’ve gotten us started by selecting two nonfiction books from authors whose work I don’t already know, Molly Millwood’s To Have and to Hold (2019) and Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (2019). At least one more book would complete my rotation. Who has the right fit (or several)? If it moved you, challenged your thinking, or both, I’d love to hear about it. Ideally it’d be written no earlier than the past decade (2010-forward), so that it will be accessible to most folks in a variety of places; however, I’m not opposed to considering recommendations that fall outside this boundary where a thoughtful case can be made. You’re game? Great! We have until March 1st to solidify our shared reading list. Let’s make it happen, shall we?
North by North Carolinian
Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle