Tuesday, December 02, 2008

You can never get the job done

The annoying thing about reading is that you can never get the job done. The other day I was in a bookstore flicking through a book called something like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (and, without naming names, you should be aware that the task set by the title is by definition impossible, because at least four hundred of the books suggested would kill you anyway), but reading begets reading--that's sort of the point of it, surely?--and anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead anyway.

--Nick Hornby, Shakespeare Wrote For Money

Now seems as good a time as any to confess that I decided during the waning days of October to bow out of all current reading challenges and to resist future entanglement with any of these enticing efforts to direct my reading. Even though I put only books I want to read on a challenge list, the fact that they're on a list at all sets up all sorts of mental boundaries--I avoided the downloaded George Gissings on my Kindle for the past nine months because I needed to concentrate on 19th century women, for example--that contributed to my eschewing books almost completely for a few weeks while I obsessively checked the interconnected internet tubes once again for any other ridiculous misinterpretations of the First Amendment that may have come tumbling out of Sarah Palin's mouth.

So. I'm back to reading at whim and allowing my reading to beget reading and trying to keep reading-by- library-due-dates under control. That's enough of a traveler's lantern for me right now.

I will be participating in the occasional group read; I have a first edition of William Gaddis' The Recognitions on my desk at work so that I can read along with LitLove's Reading Gaddis group, and I will of course continue reading with the Slaves of Golconda and perhaps even posting my thoughts on these books--next up, Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry with discussion at the end of January-- instead of moving right along to the next book on a list that needs to be checked off.


  1. "because at least four hundred of the books suggested would kill you anyway" made me laugh out loud. I am so with you on the reading challenges though I have a hard time resisting making a list, I seldom stick to it. I know what you mean though about how they can be so constricting. I am glad you are reading The Recognitions. And I hope you post your thoughts on Sexing the Cherry when the time comes. I have missed your voice in the Slaves discussions.

  2. I find reading challenges fun but also limiting in the sense that my interests may have changed over the course of the time in which I am to complete the challenge. I have also stopped checking out books of daunting size from the library for the same reason.

    I read spontaneously, allowing my heart and feeling to nudge where interests me.

  3. So glad you are going to be reading alongside us on The Recognitions - just let me know if you ever feel moved to contribute a post! And I'm looking forward very much to Sexing The Cherry - I think it will make for a very interesting Slaves' discussion.

  4. I find those lists constricting too. I'm initially drawn to them and I enjoy writing them, but after that the fun kind of seeps out of the whole thing. So I'm staying away from challenges too and just participating in group reads and only when I really want to read the book.

  5. Okay, first thing: isn't Hornby the greatest? I just bought "Shakespeare Wrote for Money" and I'm trying to spread it out like I did with "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" so I can savor the pleasure... It really sucks that he resigned his column at 'The Believer.'

    I think the reason why I've never been able to finish one challenge excepting this year's RIP III challenge is that I'm terrible at sticking to a list of books to read before a deadline. There are two things that I simply must do by mood: 1) pick out my clothes in the morning and 2)decide what I feel like reading. There's just something not as fun about reading something because somewhere in the back of your mind you've committed to reading it at that time.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.