January 13, 2010

Conquering The Pile

Anyone who calls themselves a Reader will know The Pile. Go look at your bookshelf... what do you see? There are the books you've just finished, stuffed lovingly between the ones you read over and over again. If you're like me, you see books from your childhood; books you're saving for friends; monsters that were a big part of your college education that you can't bring yourself to get rid of. Looking good!

OK, but wait... look closely. What about all those books that you bought/were given many moons ago, but you just haven't gotten around to reading? Are those unread titles, neglected and gathering dust amongst your best-loved classics, burning their images into your retinas? Telling you (as does your partner/roommate/family member who is disgusted by your book-buying problem) that "you HAVE books in your bookshelf you haven't read. Why don't you just read one of those?"

You've been trying to avoid them, haven't you? That's why, for me, they're called The Pile. I've stacked these books (not small in number, I'm afraid) and let them teeter precariously in a conspicuous spot. That way, every time I walk out the door and make a bee-line for Avid or Borders, I am reminded that trees died so that I could use these books as window dressing. Heavy, space-stealing, hard-to-take-with-me-overseas-in-large-quantities window dressing. I can almost hear their tiny voices pleading, "Read us. You'll like us. Promise."

It's not that I don't want to read them. I bought them because I wanted to read them (or was given them by someone who I respect and adore). It's just that I don't want to read them right NOW. A book can be ruined if you read it at the wrong time, squandering my potential for ultimate enjoyment. There just never seems to be a great time to give them the attention they deserve. That's why I stopped making New Years resolutions like "I will read every book that I own that I haven't already read." It's a guaranteed failure, every time. Plus, I have a bookstore addiction... but that's a subject for another post.

Still, a girl's got to put her foot down sometime. Some of my now-favorite books have come from The Pile. My Dad gave me The Time Traveller's Wife one year, and it wasn't until maybe two years later that I actually cracked that sucker open. That sucker then proceeded to rock my world.

This is My List, currently harassing me from the corner of my desk:

Song For Night by Chris Abani
If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
The Moviegoer by Percy
The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx
Lie Down In Darkness by William Styron
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

Time to get cracking on whittling my List. Who's featuring on yours?


  1. I read the Lovely Bones forever ago and I remember it being pretty good, but it is far from the romantic fantasies we are liking so much these days. I totally agree that you can read a book at the wrong time. One of the greatest examples I have of that happening for me is with one of our favorites, The Time Travelers Wife. The first time I read it I totally didn't get the same effect as the 2nd time around.

  2. My Pile is enormous. It, in fact, breaks down into numerous sub-piles.

    The largest sub-pile, by far, is my "non-fiction of the sort that I'd like to pretend I read." I buy books about math ("A Tour of the Calculus", "Zero"), books about religion ("End of Faith", "Religious Literacy"), even the occasional book about history - but I don't read any of them. (Well, that's something of an untruth. I have, in the past, read *a few* books that could be said to fall under this general categorization. Usually because I bought them at an airport and thus had no choice but to read them.) I'd really like to be the sort of person who spouts bizarre anecdotes about the origins of number and has intelligent things to say about world religion. But I might just not be one of those people. (I do a really good job consuming non-fiction about trivial matters, however.)

    Sub-pile two consists of vaguely-classic works of literature that I think I *should* read. It's primarily things other people had on their high school reading lists that I, somehow, missed out on. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "On the Road" are good examples.

    Sub-pile three consists of books I will, one day, actually read. Books other people have laued that I know I too will love . . . one day. Lahiri's "The Namesake"; Coelho's "The Alchemist"; Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife" . . .

    Also, I have a big ol' copy of Sarah Palin's autobiography glowering at me. Not sure when we'll get to that one. :-)