Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday or maybe it’s because I find myself surrounded by piles of unread books yet find nothing I actually want to read. Sunday I decided it was time to purge. If I live to be 110, I won’t have time to read all of those literary journals, anthologies, heavy history books, how-to-write-better books, and the various gift books people have bestowed on me that have been sitting there for years. There’s nothing wrong with any of these books, but I just want a good story to get lost in, preferably attractively bound and printed in type that doesn’t hurt my eyes. I read on Kindle, too, but I prefer paper.
I want to read dessert first for a change. I do not want all these books guilting me for not reading them yet. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start reading Harlequin romances, but it does mean that if a book makes me tired, I’m going to toss it. Yesterday, I found several that had bookmarks a little ways in, meaning I started to read them and pooped out. I’m giving them away, along with other books I realized I’m never going to want to read—even though they seem to be wonderful books.
I love books. I’m the kid who read Dickens for fun in junior high. I will take the time for a long novel with a strong story, beautiful language and old-fashioned careful editing. But something tossed out and full of typos, no. Books that change characters with every chapter so I need a spreadsheet to keep track of them, no. Nonfiction full of surface psycho-babble, no. Poetry collections I can’t make sense of, be gone.
The literary magazines wear me out. They’re full of great writing. I’m delighted when I can be published in them, but I can’t read them all. I just can’t.
I know I’m not the average reader. I read a lot, at least a book a week. I read many books as research for my writing. In addition to the piles of actual books and more books collected on my Kindle, I have an overflowing folder with lists of books I want to read. I read as a writer, considering more than just the story, looking at how the writer writes and criticizing the faults I see. I love it when I can forget all that and just enjoy the book.
I grew up in a house where my mother, brother and I read all the time. We got our books at the library and took them back in two weeks. We did not pile them up at home—with the exception of my Nancy Drew books and my brother’s Hardy Boys mysteries, which we donated to younger cousins years ago. There still aren’t many books at my dad’s house. That doesn’t mean we didn’t read. We just didn’t collect unread books. We checked them out, read them, checked them in. That didn’t earn the authors a lot of royalties, but it kept our books from weighing us down.
On New Year’s Eve, I promised myself that this year I would read all the piled-up books, but I have changed my mind. I will read the ones that still appeal to me and send the rest to new homes. Life is short. Read the good stuff first.
How about you? Do you have a lot of unread books? Do you keep books after you read them? Does anybody want a lot of literary magazines? I’m happy to share.
I thank everyone for the birthday wishes. Another birthday survived. Whew.