The shortlist for the Stella Prize has just been announced, and the Man Booker Prize, just a few days later. For some booklovers, the announcements would be cause for celebration. However, as I read the lists of titles, I was torn between feeling excited about all enticing books ahead of me, and dread of adding to my mental to-be-read list.
While this list (stored carefully in my mind, where perhaps map-reading or strategic planning skills should more usefully reside) is already far too long, it is not as problematic as my physical tbr pile, which is already so high it must be stacked in columns; no Leaning Tower of Pisa here – its size and shape more closely resemble the Parthenon.
It hasn’t always been this way. I remember a time when one book was enough, and I didn’t feel the need to stockpile books for the future. When I finished that one book, I would seek another. However, perhaps it was the mild sense of panic that arose when I realised there was nothing on my bedside table that has led me down this path of compulsive book-buying. After all, with a pile as large as mine, I need never fear being bookless.
It is not just awards announcements that are risky for booklovers. It is also the numerous literary events in this wonderfully book-loving state of Victoria. Just the other day, it was announced that Clunes Booktown would host Mark Brandi in May. I hurriedly bought tickets, and then went on a search for Wimmera, as surely I couldn’t attend his talk without reading his book first? And, obviously, I’ll have to read Extinctions before I can even think of listening to Josephine Wilson speak.
Similarly, a Wheeler Centre event sends me into a flurry of book-hunting and reading, and I’ve just seen that Jennifer Egan, the author of A Visit From the Goon Squad and Manhattan Beach will be appearing in coming months.
Even at the most relaxing times, when I am off-guard, the problem has been known to arise. A stroll through a beachside Sunday market is likely to end in me trying to walk awkwardly, books stuffed in my handbag and toppling from my arms.
And don’t even mention The Book Grocer stores that are popping up everywhere. Who can resist a $10 copy of Purity by Jonathan Franzen? And hard cover, no less.
Sometimes, I wonder whether this urge to collect books is a pathological, a kind of compulsion.
A compulsion is defined as: “an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way”, and I feel that might be what is happening when I add another book to my tbr pile. Perhaps this ceaseless desire to add to my collection of books is akin to hoarding. While I have no desire to keep old clothes, furniture or knickknacks, you’ll have to wrestle a book from me, no matter how many times it has been dropped into the bath or chewed by a toddler.
The fact that some books have remained on my tbr pile for a long, long time might point towards away from an innocent habit, and into the realm of compulsion. There’s Moby Dick, which I think I should read, but don’t, and The Female Eunuch, which I could read, but don’t. Then there’s Gone Girl, for which I feel I have missed the boat, and The Count of Monte Cristo, often named one of the best books of all time, but one which I feel little interest in opening.
But, even though I know I have too many books in my pile to ever get to the bottom, alongside the twinge of panic at this realisation, it also brings me joy to know that I have so many wonderful books ahead of me. As I pick up my next read, I’ll understand that it’s one that I found at a time when I didn’t really need to buy one – my reasons for getting it were compelling enough to add to an already toppling tower of books.
At the moment, my tbr pile holds Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Isabel Allende’s Eva Luna, Pat Barker’s follow-ups to Regeneration and Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish, among so many more. What books to have ahead of me!
And God help me if I spot Tim Winton’s new book or the second, third and fourth of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels as I pass, for I know I won’t be able to resist. A compulsion? Yes, perhaps it appears so, but one which I will never consider breaking.
What’s on your tbr pile?