Nearing the end of my enforced reading…

Image by Paul Falardeau/Flickr

Last year I signed up to do #TBR20, a challenge where you agree to read 20 books you already own before borrowing or buying anything new. I’ve been awful at it, just awful – once I finish my pile of 20 I’ll let you in on all the other books I’ve read since I started #1. But right now I’m reading Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller, which I bought (according to the sticker on the back) and started reading in 2006. I gave up about one-fifth of the way in that time. This time I’m really enjoying it. It has a great deal to say about reading, and – you might have noticed – I’m a bit obsessed with reading at the moment (watch this space as in about a month from now I start pressuring you to join my fundraising readathon). But even this read has been a cheat – Calvino was not on my initial #TBR20 list, but as the pile got down to the last three books I finally admitted to myself there’s no way I’m going to read two of them right now. So the switch was made. Cities are good for you and Maren Gripe are (temporarily) off the to-read list, with Calvino and Ellen van Neerven’s Heat & Light  subbing in – at least both were books I already owned.

Anyway, I’m writing this because I wanted to share a little bit of If on a winter’s night… which is pretty relevant to the whole #TBR20 contraption. It goes a little something like this:

book coverSo, then, you noticed in a newspaper that If on a winter’s night a traveler had appeared, the new book by Italo Calvino, who hadn’t published for several years. You went to the bookshop and bought the volume. Good for you.

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

  • the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages
  • the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success
  • the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment*
  • the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case
  • the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer
  • the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves
  • the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

(Calvino continues on, but I shall stop here so as not to a. bore you or b. break copyright law.)

*These are the ones I really struggle with at the moment. I’m not at all sure what I’m doing with the book I’m currently writing, and I keep hoping that if I just read this thing or that thing that it will help me find the right voice or the right idea or the right structure… but of course it won’t. Still, it made me read this Calvino, and re-read Slaughterhouse V, and a whole bunch of other books I’ve really enjoyed. I should get on with writing…


6 thoughts on “Nearing the end of my enforced reading…

  1. Perhaps its all a bit counter intuitive? The books you think you have to read to inform what you are writing are perhaps not as necessary as you think and the books you are reading are actually the ones you need and by not reading the books you should be reading your brain accesses wonderful insights into what you should be writing???? I’m up for a read-a-thon by the way!

    1. Perhaps I should randomly select books from my bookshelf and that way I’d find the book I need to write the book I need to write or something… I should just Get On With It.
      Readathon news should be hitting this blog in, oh, late April? Set June and July aside for some serious reading!

  2. You are too funny Jane. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking coffee as I was reading this or my laptop would have been in trouble.

    BTW Does Ellen van Neerven qualify as TBR? Perhaps I’m tough on myself because I have a rule of thumb that since I almost never read a book the minute I get it, every book is essentially on my TBR. So, to properly qualify as a TBR it must have been on my physical pile for 12 months. (Of course, that means a Book I’ve Been Meaning To Read But Haven’t Bought can’t be TBR until I’ve bought it and left it for 12 months … hmmm … maybe I’ll give myself some leeway here).

    Anyhow, I’m impressed that you’ve nearly reached 20 in a year. Last year I read FOUR TBR books. Woeful, but that was an improvement on the year before. I don’t think I’ve read one yet, though I did read Ellen van Neerven which I’d had for about 3 months!

    1. That is a strict rule! Most of my bookshelf is books I’ve read and hope to one day re-read (or force on someone else). Books I’ve read and probably won’t read again go to the op shop. The top shelf is given over to books I’ve acquired but not yet got around to reading (they are in a very haphazard crammed-in pile. They could fall on my head and sometimes do. It’s what I heard someone else describe last week as ‘haphazardous’). Some are decades old. Some I’ve had for a week (which is a clear giveaway that I have failed at my #TBR20 challenge…). They’re all TBR. But for the purposes of this challenge, my rule is I can only sub in a book that I already owned when I started the challenge and I’m pretty sure van Neerven qualifies (but I’m deliberately not checking because it will suck if I’m wrong).

      1. Ok, I won’t tell you when it was published just in case it was after you started the challenge.

        I’m afraid I still keep all the fiction I read and most non fiction. I’m slowly weeding very old non-fiction. My next move though will be downsizing and I’ll have to make big decisions then. I have a bookcase of TBRs and then some … And some are decades old.. Indeed most of last year’s 4 TBR were well over a decade there.

  3. I have a TBR pile that I have not read that is really four piles worth of books and Calvino was given to me by my boyfriend and I really love it. He is reading your book right now, slowly but surely, but isn’t used to spec fic so keeps asking me why certain things are happening. 😀

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