So you just finished a book. It was great! Now you want to read the author’s other work. Add those to the list. Next, you listen to a podcast or read an interview with the author, and you discover who her favorite writers are. Add those to the list. And then you read a piece of criticism about the book, from which you learn what other works inspired and informed the book. Add those to the list. And because you loved the genre / writing style / topic of the book, you conduct a search for others like it. Add those to the list.
Meanwhile, your friend lends you a book. And some books you put on hold forever ago finally come through at the Free Library! Oh, shoot, and (one of your) book club(s) is coming up. And you’re planning to see a writer speak next week, which means you need to read his latest book before that event.
Plus you’ve just read an article detailing the hottest reads of the next month and you’re already drooling. And there’s a movie coming out based on a book, which you must read before you see the film! And something inside you says it’s time to pick up that classic you always meant to read.
This is how I get into book debt.
My reading list grows and grows. It’s not a complaint—having endless options of books to read is a blessing and I love that literary culture is thriving. But my list is super long and makes for some serious shame. I can’t keep up with it.
I realize that a peril of leading a literature-loving life is that I will never be satisfied, nor will I ever feel well-read enough. (What does it mean to be "well-read", anyway?) I know I don’t have the time or capacity to get on top of my list, so I must prioritize. That means I’m more apt to pick up the newest Zadie Smith novel than to finally get around to reading This Side of Paradise. It means I left American Pastoral with 50 pages to go—not because I didn’t like it, but because I was more eager to read other books. I’ll go back and finish it eventually (before seeing the movie?). Add it to my list!
In the past, I’ve aimed to finish all the books I start, but now if I can’t get into a book, I’ll drop it and move on. I’ve tried to focus on reading the books I own rather than seeking out books from the library or friends… but then I experience too much FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I’ve tried sticking to reading only one book at once, instead of reading multiples. These strategies have only worked in phases, much like how I spend my time reading. Most nights, I fall asleep way past my bedtime, with my lamp on and a book splayed on my face. But other times, I’ll go a whole week without picking up a book.
Besides my "to read" list, there’s another list I keep that might offset some of my book debt—or at least it gives me some credit: It’s the list of books I’ve finished since I graduated college. The list of read books sits in handwritten hard copy on my bookshelf; sometimes it makes its way over to the stacks of books and lit mags piled on my bedside table. I won’t tell you how many titles are on the list, or else I’ll start worrying about how many should be on the list. Unlike my "to read" list, this list is totally in my control.
This month, I embrace my messy, scatterbrained reading habits that have led me to read the books documented on this list—rather than despairing over my book debt.
For the entire month of November, Free Library staff will be embracing our so-called “guilty pleasures” without embarrassment! Join in and show us your pride for whatever you’re reading, watching, or listening to by snapping a photo with the hashtag #FLPNoShameNovember. We’ll feature your photos on our social media accounts and curate a list of the now-shameless titles!