Year End Literary Pressure

This is what my 'to-read' pile looks like in my head. (credit:

This is what my ‘to-read’ pile looks like in my head. (credit:

It’s that time of year again — all the “Best Of” lists are coming out, and the annual reading challenges are coming to an end.  Oh, the pressure.  I have found at least a dozen books I must read, books I long to read… and that means I have to find yet another bookshelf to stuff full of ‘to be read’ books.

There are, at the moment 412 book in my ‘to read’ pile.  That’s right, 412 books.  And that doesn’t include a shelf in another room I can’t bear to add up.  Some of these books date back years, I admit that.  A few I’m probably never going to read.  How I grieve for them.  They arrived in the house to so much promise and anticipation, and then slipped, slipped, slipped and now I’m not sure why I ever found bought them. There’s something terribly sad in that.  I feel I have let these books and their authors down, that I’ve turned my back on them as they slid beneath the waves.  Fine. Now I feel too guilty (picturing my own books at the bottom of some never-to-be-read pile).  I’ll read them.  I promise.  And soon. Snort.

I’m on a couple of reading challenges — one on and the other on 50BookPledge.  A long time ago I committed, as part of the discipline/practice of the writing life, to read a book a week.  I don’t believe you can be a decent writer without being a dedicated reader.  I’ve stuck to my schedule for decades.  In fact, I’ve surpassed that goal each year.  Still, at the end of every December I feel as though the tide, which shall eventually drown me, inches a bit higher, a bit closer to my mouth and nose.

It doesn’t help I feel tempted every year to increase my reading goal.  Why not 75 books?  I generally read at least 70.  And if 75, why not 100?  Surely I could read two books a week if I set my mind to it, and now that Sons of Anarchy (Hamlet on motorcycles) has ended.  Well, maybe not. I read Graham Swift’s brilliant WATERLAND this year and it took me two weeks — because it was challenging and complex and intricate and I kept looping back to reread passages.  But generally, couldn’t I manage two books a week? That would mean, if I buy no more books, not a single one, it will take me four years to get through the piles lying about.  Four years?  Without buying books? Stop! You’re killing me!  Never gonna happen.

How I feel when I'm reading. (Evening at Home by Edward John Poynter)

How I feel when I’m reading. (Evening at Home by Edward John Poynter)

Why do I subject myself to reading challenges?  Well, the truth is I hope my students and the people who are kind enough to read my books might take a peak at my lists and be inspired to read a little more (perhaps you’d be surprised at how many people want to be writers but read very little), or people who are having trouble finding a book that will please them might read a review I’ve written and think, yes, that appeals to me; I’m going to give it a try.  I love bringing attention to terrific books.

Then, too, we writers lead fairly isolated lives.  Sharing reading lists with others is a lovely way for forming community, even on-line, although I host a book group at my home once a month as well.

So, over the next couple of weeks I’ll post a list of the books I’ve read this year, and maybe you will find a book you might have otherwise overlooked, and you will add it to your own ‘to-be-read’ pile.  Let me know.  That will make me feel a little better.

And now, I’m off to read.  I’m halfway through Jeff VanderMeer’s ANNIHILATION.  It’s terrific.




  1. Wendy on December 15, 2014 at 12:01 am

    A thought crossed my mind the other day, if I lived to 200, would still not have read all the books I’d like to read because every year, there are more great new books to read! A never ending conundrum. Feel guilty also about my collection of unread books, Lauren, but it’s nowhere near your over 400. If only we could clone a ‘reader’ of ourselves, one to simply sit and read.
    When I walk into any library, look at the hundreds of books on shelves and know in my lifetime, I’ll only read a tiniest portion of even a section of the library in books over my life of reading, makes me determined to read more than I do already. Understand your increasing the number of books to be read each year.
    Sharing a love of reading is, as you say, a great way to have a community of readers talking about the pure enjoyment of a new novel.
    Love discovering new authors to myself and first time authors as well.
    With social media making connecting with authors so easy through websites, Facebook or Twitter, often state my appreciation of an author’s efforts.
    Have a pile of about 8 books ‘waiting for me’ and the big decision is: What will be my Christmastime novel this year? Will it be a saga of years ago in England, or a crime mystery, a novel of a favourite author? Never know till the time comes!
    All I can add is: Hope there’s a library in Heaven.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 15, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Keep reading, Wendy!

  2. Melanie on December 22, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Wow, 412 books on your “to-read” list; I thought I had a long list at 83 books! I’m sure I’ll get to them all eventually and now try to only add books to my “to-read” list if I class a book as, “I HAVE to read this book” or if I have the book on my shelf. Mind you, there’s some on my shelf that keep moving down the priority ladder. I’m also trying desparately to not let the pile get too far ahead of me (cue the sounds of my husband chuckling to himself).

    I did take your cue on the reading challenge though, when you were over on goodreads. I set my goal at 30 books last year and ended up reading 53. This year I started out with a goal of reading 50 books; I have 1.5 more to read to meet my goal (I’m nearly finished All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – very good book) for 2014.

    I find I put a lot of pressure on myself to read, in order to meet my goal, and get a little bit (just a little) stressed out when my book challenge tracker tells me I’m behind on my numbers. Having a reading challenge goal has been a great motivator to read more, instead of wasting my time on the television. Mind you, series like Sons — WHOA, that was quite some finale season, I think I need a Downton Abbey “anti-venom” session — continue to suck me in for a good binge watching session (have you watched Justifed?)!

    I’m always in awe of people who continuously re-read books and/or series of books. My sister has read the Outlander series several times (got through the first one, gave up on the second one after 100 pages — too formulaic for me) and my husband seems to prefer westerns and nautical fiction series (westerns at sea); he’s read every Louis L’Amour book at least twice and is working through his “Kydd” series by Julian Stockwin, for the third time. Every now and then I can convince him to venture out into books like the Book of Negroes, the Oryx and Crake trilogy, Half-Blood Blues and other great books I’m sure he’ll love, but he’s very content to venture back to his faves. To me, there are just too many books I want to read to go back and read a book a second (or more) time.

    Like Wendy said, if I live to be 200, I’ll never get through all the books I want to read. However, I always know there’s a great book out there, waiting for me to find!! Especially when great authors (like you), keep writing great novels!!!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family Lauren and happy reading in 2015!

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 22, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Melanie — Good for you, reading 53 books! Well done. I must move that Doerr book up to the top of the pile. Everyone says it’s wonderful. And yes, I have watched Justified, but not much last season. I missed Mags. Hopefully this year will be better. And I agree with you about SOA — bit over the top in the bloodbath department, even for a Shakespearean knock-off! 😉

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