How’s This “Reading What You Want To Read” Thing Going?

At the beginning of the year, I posted an essay called “Shelf Awareness,” where I outlined a critical difference between “books I want to read” and “books I want to have read.”  And I vowed to only read books I was damn well excited to read.

I’ve been reading a lot more books lately, and loving more of the ones I do.  Which is awesome.

The interesting thing is how this decision has expanded my definition of “books I have little interest in reading, but will feel nobler if I manage to finish them.”  Because if you’d asked me before I started this, my “books I want to have read” would have included:

  • That classic work of literature that I’d be Very Smart if I actually ever finished;
  • The Very Deep author that all my friends love, but I’ve never really been able to get into;
  • That well-reviewed book that’s a modernist take on faerie tales, even though I way prefer comic book mythologies to faerie tale ones and I won’t get half the references.

But since doing this, I’ve discovered that “books I want to have read, but am not actually that thrilled to read” include:

  • That second book in a series, where I kinda-liked the first book that worked as a standalone, but don’t want to watch them enter Sequel Rehash territory;
  • The second-tier book from an author I like, and even though everyone’s said it’s not that great I feel like I should read it anyway;
  • That book I bought in a moment of weakness at a dealer’s table, and I feel like I should read it to get my $14.99 worth before I spent another $40 on books.

There were a lot of books I was reading out of obligation – because I felt, for some weird reason, that I’d read books #1 and #2, so I might as well read #3.  Or this book looked so shiny on the dealer’s shelf, but now that I’ve brought it home I should read it out of some weird penance, because dammit it’s wasted money otherwise.

And like the other “want to have read” books, reading those gave me a lot of false starts, where I’d get a third of the way through the book and drift off to another one that I sorta-wanted to finish, then get bored with that, and then there’d be a stack of books next to the tub because I didn’t want to put them back, that would be admitting failure, but I really wasn’t looking forward to picking them up either.

Now?  I order from Amazon at will (or at least as “at will” as a man with a $25-a-week entertainment budget can afford to).  I discard series wantonly.  I let my own excitement percolate, not allowing myself to value some form of “completion” over the satisfaction of having read.

I look forward to hopping in the tub and devouring a good book.  More books get thrown out, but maybe that’s the way it should have always been.

1 Comment

  1. frayedcat
    Jun 3, 2014

    Or you can get to know your libraries better. I only buy a few books a year but I have 6 or more books around the house that I am reading or might be reading or have given up on reading and will be taking them back to the library soon. Public libraries have e-books, books you can download to an e-reader.

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