Besides being under-ambitious in my writing (as evidenced by the way this blog has flamed out yet again), I’m over-ambitious in my reading. In some ways that makes sense. I’ve always been a reader, which anyone who’s followed me through the various iterations of my blog will recognize as well-traveled territory. I can scarcely think of a time when I haven’t been reading something for pleasure. Maybe my undergraduate college years, when I was heavily (and paradoxically) into angst and improv comedy and less into reading (unless it was Oscar Wilde in the dining hall, which I optimistically figured would attract a sadsack female counterpart and we could wear black and listen to The Smiths together).
But otherwise I’ve been a constant reader since – my parents tell me – the age of three. The catch, as I’ve gotten older and more financially secure, is that my shelf(ves) of “to-read” books has grown exponentially. At some point in the last couple years I realized a couple things:
1) I want to read all these books, but if I keep buying more I will never get to them.
2) If I keep buying at the current rate, I will die before I’ve read everything I own.
A couple weeks ago I did a preliminary count of what was on these shelves. At that time the count stood at exactly 150 books. I posted the original photo (not seen here) on Facebook with the half-fanciful notion that I could read everything on these shelves, essentially clearing them out, in approximately three years if I read only these books (meaning none of the Young Adult Literature [YAL] I read for work) and didn’t buy any new ones. It was, I wrote at the time, perhaps an experiment worth trying.
Cue an old friend from high school, suggesting that such an experiment might be blog-worthy, a la Julie & Julia. While I know the fidelity with which I view this blog too well to commit to anything of that nature, I like a good challenge, and the prospect of reading only these books for as long as it took to get through them grew on me.
I knew, however, that I had to do one thing first – namely (and stupidly), buy more books. I had collected nearly all the titles in Ian Rankin‘s Inspector Rebus series, but there were several noticeable gaps that troublingly fell in the middle of the series. Being just OCD enough that I knew I couldn’t comfortably skip over them, I ordered the missing titles from Amazon, along with anything else I knew I would be seriously distressed at not being able to read for three years or more (like James Ellroy’s brand-spanking-new novel Perfidia or the next two books in Jonathan Maberry’s Pine Deep trilogy).
This morning I finished reading Joseph Heller’s The Painter, and I think I’m ready to begin this experiment, for however long it takes me (or as long as I’m able to sustain it without getting bored). The accompanying photos reflect the current state of my “to-read” shelves, which now stand at 162 books. The gap you’ll notice four rows down in the top photo represents the missing Pine Deep books, which should be arriving any day, courtesy of Alibris. Otherwise, the shelves are more or less what I’ll be working with (except for the exception noted below and the eventual addition of Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, which Amazon couldn’t send me for three weeks).
In order to complete this task, I’ve set the following rules for myself:
1) I have to cool it with the YAL, but I also realize that I have a professional obligation to stay current in the field. I’ll try to set aside some time in my office every day to read it, but I won’t do it in my free time outside school anymore.
2) If you zoom in far enough on the top photo you’ll see that I’ve alphabetized the books by author’s last name and then organized each author’s books chronologically. My current plan is to start with “A,” read the first book (in this case, J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S., which doesn’t appear in the picture above because I’ve already set it aside), then move to “B,” read the first book there (Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl), and so on through the alphabet, then return to “A.” I do, however, reserve the right to shuffle the order if I feel encroaching burnout.
3) I won’t buy any new books (or used books, for anyone tempted to think I’m playing games with semantics) until I’ve cleared these shelves, except in extreme circumstances. Examples of such circumstances would be if Mo Hayder publishes her next Jack Caffrey title or when Jonathan Maberry publishes his next Joe Ledger novel, where my name – the author tells me – supposedly appears in the Acknowledgements.
4) I make no promises for the regularity with which I’ll post updates on the experiment here, but ideally I’ll check in with my progress a couple times a week. I currently log and review everything on GoodReads, so at the very least I’ll cross-post my reviews here.
And that’s it. If I demonstrate my usual degree of constancy (see my previous attempt to review every movie adapted from a Stephen King book, which lasted for about five movies), this little experiment will be a distant memory in a month’s time. But sometimes I do surprisingly well when I create goals that keep me honest. And when there’s a chance of public embarrassment. That, too.
Blur – Leisure (1991)