Posts Tagged ‘unread books’

On being indecisive

February 14, 2016

I wonder if anyone else has this problem: I don’t know what to read next.

It’s not as if I’m short of unread books: no, there are lots of them, of all different genres, books that I’ve bought because I must read them, even though that ‘must’ was five, ten, twenty years ago… books that were impulse buys, because they seemed like an interesting idea at the time. And yet, I’ll get to the end of a book, reach for another, and I’m stuck.

At the moment, the default choice is travel, but eventually I feel tired of surrogate voyaging. Next is often a novel, but I have to confess to having serious problems with fiction at the moment, and I’m a bit mystified as to why. Novels often seem a bit forbidding, a bit long (there are several door-stoppers waiting on the shelf), and I find myself not wanting more invented lives, if you see what I mean. I’m starting to consider whether this has anything to do with growing older; certainly my appetite for novels has shrunk, and if I do fancy a novel, it’s just as likely to be something I’ve read before and enjoyed, rather than something new; in fact this is more likely to be the case.

I’ve written before about my interests changing. Now there’s more of a restlessness: I’ll surf to while the time away, I’ll do crosswords, I’ll read magazines and newspapers until finally that restless mind (sometimes) settles on a book. Perhaps it’s just cabin fever: I do hate winters, and feeling cooped up and unable to be out and about. But it’s also annoying: I do actually want to read all those unread books…

The comfort of many books…

February 11, 2015

I can’t imagine not being surrounded by books. My father made me a bookcase for my bedroom when I was about eight – only a small one, but I still have it. Now, most of the rooms in the house have books in, not just mine, but mainly mine, I think. They are lovely to look at – colours, textures, patterns of spines on the shelves, collections, a variety of sizes. I think there are about 3000, though I’ve never done an accurate count. And that’s part of the problem: I did reckon up from my reading log, which I’ve kept since age 18, that I’ve probably read some three and a half thousand books since then. So I’m never going to re-read all the books I have: why am I hanging on to them?

I have a ‘waiting to read’ shelf which probably runs into three figures: even if I disciplined myself to only read from that pile, there’s a couple of years’ worth of reading. Some of them are duplicates, too – if I see a particularly nice copy of a book I already have, I’ll buy it anyway. I do thin them out occasionally, reluctantly, but I find it really hard to part with things I know and love, even though I know I will never re-read them. Why?

Somehow it’s comforting to have them all lined up as a record of what I have read, of my likes and enthusiasms, conversation starters sometimes with visitors who haven’t seem the shelves before. This is who I am, they all seem to say. They are reminders, they say ‘you really liked me once’, they invite or await a revisit that is probably not going to happen. But what if, one day, I took a fit on to read a book and I’d got rid of it? Yes, I know I could buy it again, but that wouldn’t be the same. I think I’ve had to do that all of once! And some of the books have sat there so long unopened that I can’t remember a thing about them, other than a positive impression years ago.

In the sitting room are the novels, and some of the poetry. In the hall, cookery books. In my study, literature, history, travel. In the spare room, a hodgepodge of the rest, whatever fits, including all the science fiction. Reference books, dictionaries, poetry anthologies… There are the orange spines of the old Penguins, the austere white spines of the original Picador series, the black and white dust-jackets of the Everyman’s Library, the lovely plain spines of the French Folio series.

There is a cosiness about them all, they furnish the rooms and my mind; I’m always uneasy when I go to a house and there are no books on view. And yet… sometimes there sheer weight of them, the volume (!) feels oppressive; there are just too many and I should start again and just pick the ones I definitely want to keep…

Long Reads…

September 23, 2014

I have a (very large) pile of books that sit waiting to be read, and gradually work my way through them, often picking the next one on a whim; books get added as one book suggests the need or desire to read another. And then, there’s a small, select pile of large tomes, that are waiting to be read one day. These are different from the rest: I know they need concentration, or a long stretch of time – such as a holiday – to enable me to get through them. I don’t mean this to sound like a chore, as it isn’t.

So I had saved up John Eliot Gardiner’s biography of Bach (see my previous post) since last Christmas (it was a present) deliberately for the holiday I recently took in Saxony and Thuringia in the footsteps of the composer. As I remarked, it was a challenging read, and it took me over a fortnight. I normally get through books rather more rapidly than that. I have on my shelves a couple of enormous French tomes, one on deserts, one on travel in Russia – over a thousand pages in each anthology – which I’m saving up for the right moment, probably another long holiday somewhere.

I wondered if other readers select books like this, and also found myself thinking about my attention span. I’ve read a good deal lately suggesting that the internet, browsing and hypertext links are perhaps reducing our attention spans (I think the jury is still out on this one, really) and when I was teaching in schools I noticed how textbooks were changing, no longer presenting students with chapters of text to read, but double-page spreads, with lots of little boxes in different colours, nothing in any real depth or detail, skimming the surface of a topic. I use the internet a lot, and cannot imagine life without it: am I less able to concentrate on longer and more demanding texts? Too bad, if that is the case, I guess.

Confession: there are books, bought with the thought ‘that looks really interesting…’ that continue to sink down the unread pile, and which, if I’m really honest, will never be read, and ought to be given to a charity shop. There are one or two books on my bookshelves which have been there, unopened, for half a lifetime…

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