Whilst I took my annual trip to central Australia, to organise the yearly fundraiser for the retention of indigenous women’s culture, my wife secured and built significant bookshelf space in our front lounge room. Earlier this week I tidied up piles and piles of books and before I know it I had filled those bookshelves. The activity itself meant I was dwelling on certain titles, ones I had read many many years ago, ones I bought and never got around to, others that I’d never finished (they formed a “donation” pile) and yet others that I would like to reread at some stage.
This exercise had me dwelling on the practice of reading, raising numerous questions;
- Why did I buy this book in the first place?
- Did I enjoy this one so much I will reread it?
- Why did I buy this title?
- Why so little Australian fiction?
- Who on earth gave me this one?
It was a nostalgic and memorable exercise, a little like spring cleaning, cathartic but also educational. The whole process highlighted something that I’ve known for quite sometime, however one I hadn’t quantified;
How many unread books do I own?
Without spending a considerable amount of time counting them, the obvious was brought home this week as eight new books arrived in the mail whilst I continued on with reading one, Marcel Proust’s “The Guermantes Way” (translated by Mark Treharne) part three of “In Search of Lost Time, there will be more posts about my Proust journey in the coming days. This stark fact meant that each week I finish one title and collect eight, meaning if the current trend continues each year I will add between 300-400 unread titles to my shelves!!!
Simply unsustainable, my house just isn’t that large.
Earlier today I floated the idea, on Twitter, of a personal ban on buying new books until I have read at least fifty titles from my existing shelves, this post was met with a range of responses from incredulity to laughing through full support.
Therefore, I am making a public announcement;
I AM NOT GOING TO BUY ANOTHER BOOK UNTIL I HAVE READ AT LEAST 50 TITLES FROM MY CURRENT SHELVES.
Now, with many independent publisher subscriptions this may still mean that I fall further behind, however I will keep a tab on the progress of reducing my unread bookshelves and it may even lead to a realisation that I need to reduce my subscriptions too.
How do I intend to remain firm is a decent question raised by more than one Twitter follower? I think I will implement the following strategies;
- Tell my wife. She will certainly assist with curtailing spending
- Keep a progress tab via Twitter (eg. “My book buying ban still requires 49 titles to be read before being lifted” etc. etc)
- Before picking a title from my shelves to fill the “fifty book ban” I will ask myself “Why did I buy this?” helping me to understand my moving trends
- Give myself an incentive book, something akin to a treat, to purchase once I have finished my fifty books
One title that is excluded from being completed is, of course, Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, where I am making slow progress, dipping in now and again and revelling in the breadth of wisdom. I have been very remiss in my progress posts but plan to publish an update in the next couple of weeks.
Astute followers may notice that I may even read and review a book that has only recently been released, this does not mean I have lifted my ban, it simply means it was either pre-ordered, forms part of a subscription or was kindly sent to me by the publisher to review. One title that I think will fall into this category is the forthcoming “Letters to his Neighbor” by Marcel Proust (translated by Lydia Davis) and published by New Directions, currently I am making my way through his masterwork “In Search of Lost Time” (I will write more about that journey in the coming days) and have pre-ordered the forthcoming letters, a book I am very much looking forward to reading. Title one on the list of fifty books will be “The Guermantes Way” by Proust, I am sort of cheating here as I am currently 218 pages in but being less than half way through I have bent the rules to make this book one of my journey.
I do not intend to list the fifty titles I will read as my tastes will move as time progresses, however I do have four poetry titles I need to read as interviews with the poets are lined up, add in the four Proust books (volumes 3-6 inclusive) and I only have to source 42 more books to hit my goal!!!
Wish me well and keep tabs on my progress (or utter failure) via my Twitter handle @messy_tony – let’s see if I suffer withdrawal symptoms!!!