The Ideal Reader: a refrain

Several months ago I took the decision to start tackling my book habit by finally reading all those books I bought for idealistic reasons; the books that defined the smart version of me, the well-read one, the one who had diverse and varied interests: in other words the ‘ideal reader‘. In May I made a list of all those books that I could clearly identify fell into that category and resolved not to buy or borrow any books until I’d read them all. There were 104 in total, more if you count the multiple volumes contained in some of those books (We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live & The Story of the Stone comprising 12 volumes between them, but I’ve counted them as 2). For the old me, 104 books would more than 1 year’s reading, less than 2, but now I’ve slowed my reading, and coupled with the rather challenging nature of some of the books, I suspect it will take rather longer than 2 years to complete my mission.

So far I’m up to book 14 from my list. It’s not excellent progress but what I’ve found since I started is that the idea of ‘progress’ has melted away. In addition to the 104 books on the list I also have something like 100-150 other books which I haven’t read and aren’t on the list and I’ve been reading from both sections of my library over the course of the past several months. I have books, I am reading books. There is no pressure except that which I place upon myself.

So far my list of books read is as follows:

  1. The Undiscovered Self by C.G. Jung
  2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  3. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
  4. Bushido: the Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo
  5. The Three-Cornered World by Natsume Soseki
  6. The Book of Lieh-Tsu
  7. Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton
  8. Wabi Sabi: the Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper
  9. The Story of the Stone by Cao Xuequin
  10. Shobogenzo by Dogen (unfinished)
  11. Cartesian Sonata by William H Gass (unfinished)
  12. Germinal by Emile Zola
  13. The Leopard by Lampedusa
  14. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (in progress)

I say ‘read’ but as you’ll see not all of the books are finished. The Shobogenzo is a huge volume of buddhist writing, not something to be downed in a single gulp, and I’ve been dipping into and out of it over the past several months, sometimes going back over something which I found particularly meaningful. Cartesian Sonata is a collection of 4 novellas; Gass is an interesting but extremely challenging writer, and I’ve found it difficult to read it continually but after I finish a book if I feel I can handle it I have been going back to it and reading a single novella. I have two left. I’ve just started the Cherry-Garrard; it felt like an appropriate read for the season as we enter these days of darkness.

Neither have I reviewed all of the books I’ve read. My intention when embarking on this challenge was to experience the reading and that’s what I’ve been doing. Some of the books have left me little to say, others too much. I am increasingly coming to recognise that my desire to write about what I’ve read isn’t connected to the pleasure of reading itself, in some ways it detracts from it. Perhaps it is the increasing toxicity of the virtual world having an effect on me, but I’m not sure shouting out into the void is really meaningful…though here I am, still shouting.

I have been slightly disappointed to notice that my list involves books predominantly by white men. I wondered for a while if that reflected a deep held bias that equivocated white men with more challenging reads, but when I looked at the books I had already read I realised it was something else. I had already read most of the books by women and people of colour. Maybe it is still a form of bias, just not the one I’d imagined.

I have also cheated, a little. I’ve borrowed 3 books from the library, all in the past two weeks. And that’s okay. I’ve managed 7 months without borrowing a book and I know, now, that I can manage 7 more and another 7 more without difficulty. One of the books was Cal Newport’s Deep Work, something which has helped me to refocus both in reading and in my life. The other two are books of poetry by Tomas Transtromer.Β  I recently encountered his work and find it beautiful, and I’m not wholly sure that books of poetry can ever be off my borrowing list. I haven’t bought any books, except for other people. With Christmas approaching I have found my desire to acquire new books resurfacing; it seems to ebb and flow in waves. There have been some fascinating books released this year: Crudo by Olivia Laing, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss – all these have tempted me, and perhaps it would be okay to buy them, they are only four after all, but I haven’t. I can wait. I am learning to wait.

I’m not sure I’m learning anything except to be satisfied, patient and settled. It is not easy. Sometimes I find it incredibly difficult to select a book to read, though I have literally hundreds to choose from. And I wonder if my book buying desire has simply been converted to something else: I have spent a lot of time making things – chutneys, wines, kombucha, batch cooking. Maybe my restlessness is manifesting differently, but I’m not sure. There’s a settledness in me that I haven’t experienced before. I am beginning to feel I have nothing to prove, that maybe just being is enough.

I am not sure how much I will be blogging into 2019, but I don’t think it matters either. I will write as the spirit takes me. The world will go on. I have books to read.

Happy reading. Love books. Live life. Be kind.





About bookbii

I'm an ordinary woman living an ordinary life in an ordinary place, and it is quietly wonderful
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13 Responses to The Ideal Reader: a refrain

  1. “I have books, I am reading books.” Beautifully put. I think that will be my mantra next year, so I can avoid pressurising myself! Do write when the muse siezes you and the rest of the time just enjoy your books.

  2. Beautiful post, Belinda!

    I must confess I miss your writing. I don’t see it as ‘shouting to the world’ or anything like that – it’s just a voice I like to hear, and it makes me see things in books I wouldn’t do if I were alone. I think that’s what I look for in the blogging community in general, too: I follow the voices.

    Your posts have also made me reassess my reading life: lately, I have been wanting to slow down & take more time with each book. At the same time, I feel I want to read so many books, and have so little time! You see: I am still in the middle of this conflict.

    From your list, I have my eyes on the Shobogenzo & The Story of the Stone. The title of Thomas Merton’s book also caught my eyes – did you enjoy it?

    I recommend Ghost Wall: it took me a while to warm to it, but, when I did, the book grew on me. And it is a short book, more like a novella.

    I wish you a happy new year – and happy reading! πŸ™‚

    • bookbii says:

      Thank you Juliana πŸ™‚ I hope to blog, perhaps more in a relaxed way, into next year. I’m just not going to put myself under pressure anymore. I hope your own experiments in slower reading pay off. It is not an easy journey; sometimes I wonder if I’ve broken my reading self, but on the other hand I imbibe more of what I read and I’m no longer constantly reaching for the next thing. So overall I think it’s been a good thing for me. Obviously that doesn’t translate to everyone else, but it is always good to experiment πŸ™‚
      Thomas Merton is wonderful. Zen and the Birds of Appetite is a lovely book, good to read alongside the Shobogenzo because they are both focused on buddhism but in a very different way. Merton translates into a more western-mindset the nature of buddhism. Consequently I think he is both quite inaccurate and quite insightful. The Shobogenzo has changed my world. I’m still working on it, I don’t understand much but I do recognise it has spoken to something I needed to hear and part of my slowing down has been to allow myself to listen.
      Thank you for your generosity and kind-spirit. Happy reading πŸ™‚

  3. JacquiWine says:

    Lovely post, Belinda. You seem more at ease with your reading (and life in general) than you were a couple of years ago. I think that comes through in your closing comments in particular – the desire to write when the mood takes you, however sporadic that might be.

    Wishing you all the best for the festive season and the year ahead.

    • bookbii says:

      I think I am more at ease, Jacqui, definitely calmer and more measured in how I feel. I still feel like I have a long way to go, though my desire to ‘prove’ myself has dissipated somewhat and what’s left, then, is the book. I think that’s better overall.
      Have a lovely Christmas break. All the very best wishes to you for the forthcoming year.

  4. SimplyMe says:

    A genuinely amazing shift in consciousness undertaken in a relatively short period of time. Hearty congratulations, Belinda.

    • bookbii says:

      You’ve been a big help in achieving that shift Jan, you have no idea how much. You have made me feel less alone. Thank you for always being so thoughtful and considered. I feel like I have a lot of work to do still, but I am more settled and I think I have a vague idea how to keep myself on track, though life always surprises doesn’t it?

  5. roughghosts says:

    One of the true joys of engaging with fellow book bloggers over time is watching each reader follow his or her own pathwaysβ€”the act of reading intently and reflecting on what we read, writing about it when inspired, can bring challenges and open new avenues of exploration. Godspeed on your reading journey in the new year!

    • bookbii says:

      You too πŸ™‚ I have been reading your forays into poetry with interest. I think poetry might be something I need to pull into my reading time again next year. As you say, we may all share a love of books but how we get there, and what stirs us, is quite different which makes it all very interesting. Thanks for reading & all the very best for 2019.

  6. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus says:

    Have you read The Leopard by Lampedusa yet? I with it were easier to grasp. I read it, but I found it very hard to get into and realise the significance of all the historic events hinted.

    • bookbii says:

      Hi Diana πŸ™‚ yes I’ve read The Leopard. I also struggled with it. It is one of those books which is beautifully written, which you can tell is a ‘great’ book, but difficult and especially so when the history somewhat unknown. And also, it is quite a melancholy book. I have kept my copy, as I think I will read it again sometime. I feel it is a book that will deepen in richness over the years.

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