It is probably not much of a surprise that I have too many books. I imagine that anyone who is running a book blog, whether for personal enjoyment or employment, suffers from an excess of books. I have lots of books. My house is full of them. About a year ago, maybe a little longer, we converted our dining room into a library and massively expanded the book storage space. It is already full. Books are stacked on the side and underneath the shelves. On top of that, I have a running list of at least four library books. Once I finish one or two, I reserve a couple more. Sometimes they’re reserved by someone else which means I need to prioritise those, otherwise I might renew them once or twice before getting around to reading them. At the moment I’m doing well with library books, but I haven’t read a book I own for a few weeks now. I don’t segregate my read and unread books, but a quick and honest squint at the shelves reveals that there are more unread than read. Still I reserve library books, I pick up books in secondhand shops and I watch out for interesting looking new books that will satisfy my reading appetite (like Ali Smith’s Autumn, or Zadie Smith’s Swing Time both of which I’m likely to buy).
A little while ago I branched out from my exclusive reading of fiction into non-fiction. I carved out a section of shelving for my growing collection. I have discovered that I enjoy non-fiction; it’s a diverse and interesting category of book all lumped together despite the massive disparity in subject matter and approach. I enjoy travelogues and nature books, books about neuroscience and psychology. I enjoy history. I like memoirs. Most non-fiction, the really successful stuff, is just another way of telling a story. Both fiction and non-fiction aim to reveal a kind of truth to us, it’s just that non-fiction is a little more direct. I probably read more non-fiction than fiction now, and my non-fiction space is full and could use some expansion room.
I am happy with my book collection. I am happy for it to expand (albeit at a slower rate than currently) and I love having a whole room devoted to bookish things. That being said, there’s a certain pressure that comes from all these books. Sometimes the desire to get through them outweighs the enjoyment. I am reading one book and thinking about the next one and the one after that, organising my reading in my mind. I would like to read all the books by Sarah Moss, for example, including her non-fiction. In preparation for this exercise (how awful that makes it sound) I bought a copy of her book The Frozen Ship – a non-fiction book about polar exploration – and placed it on the shelf amongst all the other books I have about polar exploration and it occurred to me that now might be a good time to read all those books about polar exploration, immerse myself in it. It is, after all, something I find quite fascinating. From polar exploration I could move onto books about deserts, or islands as I have a few books about those things too. In fact, I have enough of those kinds of books to gainfully occupy a winter’s reading in quite pleasant fashion.
Except it is me. Where I desire to, and try to, read in a leisurely fashion I am, to pinch a metaphor from somebody else, like a dog eating whilst someone is trying to take the bowl away. I wolf books down. This is not commensurate to enjoyment. Sometimes it is, but mostly it isn’t. I miss things. I push past the point where I’m taking things in. I spoil the reading for myself.
There are books which warrant a close, careful, slow reading. I avoid those books. I know I can’t, won’t, give them the attention they need. I realise that this is like avoiding the gourmet meal so I can have a McDonald’s later. I shouldn’t avoid them. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about philosophy. I have read philosophy in the past and I have enjoyed it, but it can be a painstaking way of reading. It is not conducive to my gulping, ravenous style.
I feel I need to organise myself, to put a structure around my reading which will force me to slow down. I’ve tried this before by reading massive books. It worked, of a fashion. By itself it will not be enough. The blogging both helps and doesn’t. On the one hand there is some pressure to keep the blog going; I know that pressure comes from me, no one else expects anything. On the other hand, blogging helps me wrap my mind around what I think about a book, it is a great tool for reflection and consolidation. For example, I know that I only fully appreciated the depth of brilliance of Ali Smith’s How To Be Both by writing about it. I knew it was excellent, but writing about it brought an extra dimension to it, it placed the book under a microscope and I could then see the shimmering brilliance from within. Blogging has become such a part of my reading experience that it becomes thin without it. It is rare that I read a book now and don’t blog about it.
I have considered creating piles of books on different themes and sticking to it. One pile will be my library books – this, if any, is likely to be the impulsive selection. Another would be non-fiction books by women in translation; non-fiction by women writers is rare enough, but non-fiction by women in translation is like unobtainium – encountered in passing, not truly to be believed in. But when you do find it, oh it is worth it. Another would be classics I haven’t got around to reading. Another would be general non-fiction. I realise as I pick through the list that I would need many piles and, perhaps, I should just stick to picking books off my shelf.
I love reading, and I love books. I don’t think I could stop being an avid consumer of them. But finding a way to calm it down a little, that would be a good thing. Finding a way to slip in those more meaningful books without having one eye on something a little easier to read could massively enrich my reading experience. I’d like it to be a little more enriching. Reading is not just about enjoyment, it’s also a learning experience. Through reading we experience aspects of the world we wouldn’t otherwise touch, but we also expand and challenge our way of thinking. The challenge, that’s something I think I’m missing. The books I read are good, but now and again I need to read something which is both good and difficult. Only by constantly challenging myself will I continue to learn and grow.
There’s no point to this. I just feel like I need to get the words out there, think through the problem. But if anyone has any suggestions on how to slow down, tell me please. I’m listening.