The Reading List

pile-of-booksFor a while now I’ve been buying more books than I read. Reading is slow, but buying books is so quick sometimes the sensible bits of your brain cannot intervene fast enough. Having all my books in LibraryThing for a while, though, makes the mathematics of the problem clear. Acquiring 50–100 books a year and reading one only every week or two means, through the application of pitiless Malthusian logic, that I’ll die with over 1000 unread books in an enormous teetering pile beside my bed. This is a good argument for investing in ample shelving, or moving to a remote island and reading for three years, or perhaps even for frittering away less time on the Internet. Something had to be done.

To exert some control over the problem, and I am admitting it’s a problem, I decided to monitor my incomings and outgoings over this year (humiliatingly like a Weight Watchers food diary) and to come up with a plan: a reading list I could consciously work my way through. Like a shopping list for someone who only hits the supermarket when they’re hungry. Compiling such a list, picked by the Listener Best Books of 2011 and suggestions from my well-read partner D, was the easy part.

  • Atwood, Margaret | Cat’s Eye
  • Atwood, Margaret | Oryx and Crake
  • Bailey, Elisabeth | The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
  • Bakewell, Sarah | How to Live: a Life of Montaigne
  • Barnes, Julian | The Sense of an Ending
  • Burke, James Lee | Feast Day of Fools
  • Clayton, Hamish | Wulf
  • DeWitt, Patrick | The Sisters Brothers
  • Dickens, Charles | Great Expectations
  • Druett, Joan | Tupaia
  • Duncan, Glen | The Last Werewolf
  • Dyer, Geoff | Otherwise Known as the Human Condition
  • Egan, Jennifer | A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Eugenides, Jeffrey | Middlesex
  • Eugenides, Jeffrey | The Marriage Plot
  • Farrell, Fiona | The Broken Book
  • Firbank, Ronald | The Flower Beneath the Foot
  • Grimshaw, Charlotte | Opportunity
  • Hardy, Thomas | The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Hitchens, Christopher | Arguably
  • Hoban, Russell | Riddley Walker
  • Hollinghurst, Alan | The Stranger’s Child
  • Kelly, Kevin | What Technology Wants
  • Lanier, Jaron | You Are Not a Gadget
  • McCarthy, Cormac | All the Pretty Horses
  • McCarthy, Cormac | The Road
  • Mukherjee, Siddhartha | The Emperor of All Maladies
  • O’Brien, Flann | The Third Policeman
  • Phillips, Arthur | The Tragedy of Arthur
  • Quigley, Sarah | The Conductor
  • Redniss, Laura | Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie—a Tale of Love and Fallout
  • Ross, Alex | Listen to This
  • Ross, Alex | The Rest is Noise
  • Shirky, Clay | Cognitive Surplus
  • Smiley, Jane | A Thousand Acres
  • Smith, Jennie Erin | Stolen World: a Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skullduggery
  • St Aubyn, Edward | At Last
  • Stephenson, Neal | Anathem
  • Stewart, Rory | The Places In Between
  • Tremain, Rose | Music and Silence
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh | The Last Days of Hitler
  • Unsworth, Barry | Sacred Hunger
  • Unsworth, Barry | The Quality of Mercy
  • Vann, David | Caribou Island
  • Wallace, Alfred Russell | The Malay Archipelago
  • Wells, Peter | The Hungry Heart
  • Wilson, Tim | The Desolation Angel

Though this looks a little like one of those Great Books One Must Read lists, it’s anything but. I’ll still be compulsively reading randomly, but this should cut down on the impulse purchases. And having a deliberate goal will surely help me set aside more reading time—something that I’ve noticed has been declining every year, with the competition from Twitter, Facebook, ukulele practice, movies, DVDs from Fatso that must be watched, and all the other demands on my free time. In part, this is an experiment to see if reading can be as important as I remember it being in my youth, or even in graduate school.

So the question then occurred to me: how long should it take to read this list? Am I being unrealistic? Once again, LibraryThing to the rescue (seriously, if you love your books I can’t recommend this site enough). The list adds up to just over 16,000 pages. That’s 307 pages a week, or 44 pages a day. I tested my reading speed with The Road, and seem to cruise along at 20 pages every 15 minutes. So if I can read half an hour a day, perhaps an hour a day on weekends, I should get through them all. He said blithely. Let’s see.

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