When Other Worlds You Enter

As with most every non-essential facet of my life, I’m pretty cyclical when it comes to reading. I suppose that reading is like watching movies moreso than, say, playing video games or drawing: I’m almost always reading something and don’t know if I can think of a time when I didn’t do much reading for pleasure at all but I certainly slow way down at times.

Lately I’ve been on something of an upswing, probably brought about by the proximity of our current apartment to the local branch library: It’s no more than a ten minute walk. Combined with the county library’s website feature that allows you to search the catalog and put a hold on any item with a destination branch of your choosing, this has allowed me to have ready access within about a week to mostly any book I’m inclined to read. I also think that Goodreads has had a lot to do with my increased reading because I’m such a stats junkie when it comes to every aspect of my life (I also credit Last.fm with making me listen to more music and Netflix for making me watch more movies as I can track my activity for the respective media on those sites).

But as I’ve been checking all these books out of the library I keep having this twinge of guilt as I walk through my living room with another stack of borrowed items, past the bookshelf that houses what I know are at least a couple dozen books that I picked up over the years and either meant to read but didn’t, started but couldn’t finish or read but wanted to re-visit and it’s like they taunt me mockingly. “What’s that? Another pile of books? Another chance to rack up some late fees? Another set of tomes to renew four or five times while you struggle to read them? You know what doesn’t cost late fees? You know what you don’t have to renew? Books you already own, jerk!”

My books are kind of mean. I’m not sure why.

In any case I keep having all these reasons why the unread books are sitting on my shelf and finally I got sick of it. So after the most recent round of checkouts went back (completed in this case), I did some organizing and arranged all the books I owned but needed to attend to into the same shelves. I expected there to be like I said maybe 15-25. There were 41. So I did the only thing that I could think of: I made a game out of it. I call it my Reading Project (I guess I should take “Good at coming up with clever names for stuff” off my resume) and my intent is to either read or get rid of every book on the list by the end of 2011.

Now, this is an ambitious goal. For reference 2010 was an “up” year for reading and I tracked 22 books I finished on Goodreads this past year. However, I don’t really expect to actually read through 41 books as will become evident in a minute. The point is not to read every book, but to determine once and for all if the book will be read so I can stop feeling like I have no business borrowing or buying any more books until I get through the ones I already have. Some of the books on the list I’ve actually read already, but they are included because I intend to read them again. For example I read Watership Down back in high school. At least, I think I did. I’ve picked it up a few times since and flipped to random pages and it all sounds very familiar to me. I have fond memories of the story but for whatever reason I can’t remember beyond the back cover copy what it’s really about. So it’s on the list because I want to not just say I read it and think I read it but know I read it and determine if I actually enjoyed it as much as I think I did.

Others, like the first three books of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, I’ve read and remember but it took so long for King to get from Book 3 to Book 4 that when I tried to read Wizard and Glass, I couldn’t remember enough details about the previous books to get into it. I’ve meant (and actually attempted) to re-read the first three but I’ve never seemed to be able to make it through. So they’re all on the list because I want to try one last time to read 1-3 and then continue on the series but if I can’t do the re-reading thing I may try Book 4 alone once more to see if I can power through. If not, I’m at a point in my life where I’m comfortable declaring that I just don’t have to finish every single thing I start (my experience with the Wheel of Time series did a lot to get me to that place).

Some, like Lies My Teacher Told Me, I mostly skimmed and skipped around in the first time through. I read enough of it to feel comfortable saying, “Yeah I read that” and rating it on Goodreads but now I’d like to actually go through it cover to cover. A few of them like The Lovely Bones and Bookends are Nik’s books by authors she enjoys that I’m interested in trying out because I like to take steps to not box myself into any particular corner (of any media, not just literature). I may end up swapping the actual titles of these at some point because I didn’t consult with Nik on which she would recommend but I read some Christopher Pike young adult thrillers on her recommendation this summer and enjoyed them, plus it was fun to be able to talk about them with her so I figure they count as “books I’ve been telling myself I’ll try one of these days” and thus belong in the Project. Maybe I should rename the project to “Today Is One Of These Days.”

Finally there are a handful of titles on the list that I either hated but slogged through anyway, hated and therefore gave up on or read because I had to for school and therefore was prejudiced against (I dislike being told what I must read). These include The Good Earth, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Fountainhead and Life Work. I’m giving them all another chance because I’ve been slowly working my way through Crime and Punishment via DailyLit and finding that it’s much more interesting this time around than it was Sophomore year so I wonder if voluntarily approaching some of these bad reading experiences with a fresh perspective will change my tune on some of them.

The Rules

I wanted to keep it simple but I needed some criteria to determine if I was going to take a book off the list without actually finishing it and just write it off as a book I wasn’t meant to read. So here they are:

  1. I must read only one book at a time. Historically I’ve been “halfway through” as many as ten or eleven books simultaneously. But in order for me to work through the list, I need to focus (the case could even be made that I’m already halfway through a lot of these). Therefore when I set a book in Goodreads to my “currently-reading” list, it’s the only one that I can have on there. I’m not counting stuff I read on DailyLit because it’s not on the list to begin with and it by design gets read over time.
  2. I have to finish at least 20% of the book. The amount is kind of arbitrary but I figure one-fifth of a book is sufficient to give a pretty good idea whether you can stand to read the remaining 80%. My percentage will be based on page count, minus any appendices or notes. As an example my first book is Lies My Teacher Told Me which is 318 pages, so I have to read at least 64 pages before I can give up on it.
  3. I have to cycle books that don’t hit the 20% mark within five days. With just over a year to read 41 books, I need to be on pace for about a book (the average page count for the books on the list is 396) every nine to ten days. Realistically that means if I’m not making progress enough to decide if I want to keep reading or not in about a work week I need to move on to something else. Ideally I’m either reading a book at a pretty comfortable pace for a book I’m enjoying (roughly 62 pages a week) or I’m deciding it’s not for me in that same time period. If I’m getting toward the end of the week and still haven’t met the base criteria for crossing it off the list, I’ll need to save it for later in the year when hopefully I’ll have banked some time on some of the easier reads to make up lost ground.

So that’s my project. You can follow along on my Goodreads page or wager on how many books I’ll actually cross off the list through before the end of next year in the comments. If you want to go for super bragging rights I’m also accepting predictions for how many of the books will be fully read as opposed to being discarded and what the ratio of completed to rejected books will be. And of course if you’re a reader and not already on Goodreads, I can’t recommend the site enough; sign up and add me as a friend.

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