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 Booklikes.com 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.
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.