I shouldn’t have planned a start date to my plan to read less. I should have just started. I don’t really believe in ‘new year, new start’. Plans, once made, should be followed through as soon as possible otherwise they’re almost always doomed to fail. All those resolutions – how many of them make it to the end of January? Well this is not a resolution, but it is a change I’d like to see succeed. And I’m not making it too easy on myself.
Since I declared I would not buy any more books I’ve bought four books. Two of them were books I’d read before: Masks and The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, both of which I’d like to re-read sometime. One was Half Mile Down by William Beebe, an old copy (it’s pretty hard to get hold of) which I’ve wanted to read since reading my top favourite book The Last Samurai (Helen DeWitt). The last one was a bit of an impulse buy – Essays in Idleness and Hojiki; I needed to bump up an Amazon order (sorry world) to get free shipping and it seemed like a good way to do it. Since then I haven’t bought any books, though I have been tempted by many, but one thought has been helpful in holding me back and it’s this…
I can only read 40 new books in the next year.
40 books. That’s nothing. 40 books is barely a dent in my back catalogue, I probably have 40 books sitting on the 2 shelves in the cabinet in the living room, and that is the sum total of new books I can read. Because I’m committed to re-reading at least 1 book a month, and only 52 books in the year. The re-reading excites me, I find it is easy to choose books that I’d like to re-read, in fact it would be very easy to spend the whole year, all 52 books, re-reading. It’s tempting. It’s tempting, except that the weight of all those books I haven’t read yet might bury me, and then there are the books I’m borrowing from the library which I can’t stop myself from doing (I have 2 in January already).
I’m not going to renege on my plan, I genuinely want to read more slowly. But the idea of just 40 books (which may be more than most people read in a year, I expect) has suddenly terrified me. How do I choose? Which 40 books are worth choosing over the rest of my books waiting to be read? Suddenly it’s become more important to select my books carefully, rather than simply moving wilfully from one book to another book as the spirit takes me. And this is scary, but it’s also a good thing. Limiting my choice means I have to make a choice rather than letting the choice be made for me by impulse.
I’m not sure how I’m going to do it; I’m not sure how I’m going to control myself when sometimes I can read a book in 2 days and sometimes, those weightier books, it takes 2 weeks. But the idea of being limited, of only being able to commit to a small selection, is also refreshing. For once I’m really thinking about what I want to get out of reading, it isn’t just something I mindlessly do. And perhaps that thinking will extend to other things too. I no longer intend to simply consume my way through life. I want to experience it, enjoy it, feel it is valuable. There are so many books I’d like to read, but perhaps focusing on those I really want to read is more important. And I probably own all of those already. Maybe this thought will be enough to stem the buying flow, maybe it won’t. But if it makes me more selective in what and how I buy then perhaps that is enough. Because habits are formed slowly and they have to be unpicked slowly, but perhaps, this time, the recognition that slowness is what I want to achieve might just be enough to see me through.