Friday, June 13, 2008

Of book lists, and other things

It seems that no matter how many books I read a year my overall reading list never gets any smaller. It's not quite to the point where for every book I read I add two to the list, but almost. Part of this is a natural outcropping of my job description. As a technical services librarian I am in charge of collection development, which means browsing through catalogs and reading book reviews on a regular, if not daily, basis. And as a person with a wide range of interests it is inevitable that many of the books I select for purchase here at work wind up on my reading list.
Part of it is also because I belong to a book club, and inevitably there are a number of books that make it onto my list from our yearly slate that I would never have thought to pick up. Some of these are great, like Shadowdivers, and others are not so much, like Refuge. Naturally, I am quite pleased when a handful of books that were already on my list make the cut, but as we are limited to recommending two apiece, and only pick nine books for the year, a large portion selected aren't on my list.
Part of it is also that I enjoy a number of series, and for most of them there is a new book each year, or if (joy of joys!), I discover an established series, there is a large influx of books to the list.
Ultimately though, the reason my reading list never gets any smaller, is that there is not enough time to just read non-stop. And to get through my 200 plus list of books to read would necessitate non-stop reading. But where is the fun in that? When something you enjoy becomes a chore it ceases to bring pleasure. This is part of the reason why even avid readers lose interest in recreational reading in high school and college, because of the sheer amount of reading for school. The last thing most people would want to do after slogging through A Tale of Two Cities is to curl up with another book.
This line of thought made me think back to those years of my life and examine the other reasons my book consumption tapered off. Besides the fact that reading was too much like school, I had a very hard time finding anything to read. This isn't to say that good books didn't exist at the time (I'm not that old!), but simply that I couldn't find them in the vast public library of my youth. It seemed to me that everything for teenagers was a "problem novel" (gag!) and that so many of the books for adults were too "adult" (boring and/or violent). The resources that exist today that enable me to find so many of the great books I've read recently and/or purchased for my place of employment were not available then.
There was a time of course, in college, when I felt compelled to try and make myself more "well-read." Despite the vast number of books that I have read, and my familiarity with famous authors and their works, I don't consider myself particularly well-read. This is not to say that I read crap, on the contrary, I think I have a very good mix of some well done fluff and good, current, popular fiction and non-fiction. But if you compare my reading lists (both the I have read and want to read) with something like 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die I perform fairly poorly. And honestly, that doesn't bother me all that much. I don't like the idea of reading something because I am supposed to. I read something if I enjoy it. And now that I am not in school I have the luxury of saying "screw it" if I am not liking a book. (Of course, I occasionally did that in school too, to varying degrees of success). There is no martyred reader award. No one is keeping score. If one of your goals in life is to read all 1,001 titles in that aforementioned book then more power to you. I wish you the best of luck. But it's not for me.

1 comment:

Mockingbird said...

"Well read." I don't think that phrase means what people think it means. I remember my decision a few years back to read at least most of the "great books" that I'd missed in school. "Wuthering Heights" got me over that quickly. Yeah, yeah, I know. It's a great book. I can state, with absolutely no fear of contradiction, that I hated, loathed, and overall despised that book.

It's a bit like Gauguin. I can easily accept that his work is masterful; I just don't care for it.

Part of being a grown up is developing the ability to defend these positions. I no longer think I have to read every "Great Book" and I don't think I'm a slavering knuckle-dragger. Heck, conversations wouldn't be nearly as interesting if I'd already read everything!