I have a lot of books.
Not enough to be featured on a television show about hoarders; I’ve sold, traded, gifted and donated a couple hundred books over the years, so I’m not a hoarder.
Not a hoarder.
But is it wrong that this picture gives me a small pang of longing?
I’ll never have enough books, or enough house, to end up with a room like this one. But in my ~1100 square feet of living space, my books make a fairly hefty dent.
The count is somewhere around 1500, and that’s just books made of paper and glue and gilt and ink.
Little-by-little, over the past twenty years, my fiction fix has shifted from reading scads of physical books to listening to a passel of audiobooks. It’s sort of magical, being able to have my head in a novel no matter what else I’m doing. (Almost…I mean, there are also movies to watch and friends to chat with and a husband to snuggle). Gardening, housecleaning, cooking, driving, grocery shopping, sewing, walking, showering—all while a novel pours into my psyche.
You know, life in the 21st century has its perks.
But I’ve noticed in the past couple of months that my head has started begging for a different experience. Not because listening to a novel doesn’t light up my story-loving brain—it absolutely, positively does—but because the act of reading a book, especially a physical book, requires a mind-body slowing down that is immersive in a different way.
A physical book has mass. It’s acted on by gravity while it’s in my hands. The paper and the cover and the dust jacket have texture under my fingertips. There is a sound when I turn the page. Sometimes large, old, or hardcover books have creaky spines. New books often have a glorious, smell of fresh ink; old books have that peculiar, particular smell that’s some grand distillation of dusty, aged paper and time.
While reading a physical book, I don’t usually do much else (perhaps a bit of eating, bathing, or—while I was at Stanford—walking). Mostly I stop everything else, sit or recline, and just read.
So when it dawned on me yesterday what it was I was really craving, I went out to the big bookshelf my dear husband made me, with the intention of picking out a novel. It has bugged me for years that I own and allow shelf space for a number of novels I’ve never read, and yesterday I thought, that’s it: I’m going to read the books I own!
If you'd asked me how many unread novels I possessed, I would have guessed it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30.
Uh, no: 155 unread books on my largest bookshelf.
There are other bookshelves, too. Where to begin?
The most logical answer was to choose alphabetically. But when I stood in front of the ‘A’ shelf, my monkey mind threw a fit. I felt all kinds of resistance.
Why? *shrugs. I don’t know—it’s monkey mind. Monkey mind is like honey badger: it don’t care.
So I came up with a system to pick a novel that tricked monkey mind into thinking that someone had made up a reading game with presents—and the presents were never-before-read books. YAY!
Then I got totally absorbed in my new system, and I created a list that will have me reading heretofore unread books for an ENTIRE YEAR, one after the other.
I’m not a fast reader and some of these books are very large (Pillars of the Earth, anyone? 964 pages), so by my estimation I’ll end the year having read 46 physical books in 52 weeks—every one of them a book that’s been sitting on my own shelf for any number of years. Three of them are nonfiction, five are short story collections, and thirty-nine are novels.
That just leaves another 109 for next year. And the year after that.
And I have several other bookshelves throughout the house. Whew. I potentially have SEVERAL YEARS worth of fresh reading available, without buying a single book, new or used.
Like THAT'S going to happen.
Book 1: Ancestors by William Maxwell.
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