In the past I have always taken a scatter gun approach to choosing books, picking up one at a second-hand stores, another at a Sunday market, and finding many on the bookshelves of friends and family. However, beneath this casual approach lies a more fixed vision of what I want to read – a combination of prize-winners that have caught my attention, popular authors of past and present and bestsellers that everyone is reading.
While, more often than not, the particular book I choose is dictated by what is in front of me in the local bookshop or the bookshelves of those close to me, there is some kind of vague method behind my reading choices more broadly.
And so, I was interested to read an article about the notion of approaching a lifetime of reading in an orderly way, planned out ahead and embarked upon methodically. In the Financial Times (albeit a more likely home of financial rather than literary planning), Nilanjana Roy explored of the value in making more conscious choices when selecting books through the years.
She wrote about the reason behind the approach, citing a a survey of the the number of books a reader might finish in a lifetime. The survey plotted the reading trends for women and men across different age groups, revealing the average reader finished about 12 books a year, a voracious reader about 50 books a year and the super reader about 80 books a year. Finally, at the age of 25, even a super reader with a long life expectancy will finish a mere 4,560 to 4,880 books before they die. And how many of us can claim to be super readers?
So, Roy said, isn’t it wise to carefully select our next read, ensuring we are exposed to the perfect balance of the great books of our time and the past?
The idea of only being able to read a fraction of the wealth of books available during a lifetime has more than once left me with a sense of literary FOMO. There are so many unmissable books that I am likely to miss – I’ve never picked up a Proust or read Moby Dick; the choice that Sophie makes is still a mystery to me and I only know Emma by its Hollywood adaptation. I haven’t even read Gone Girl. Then there are blockbuster series that have become popular culture icons, like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. It pains me to think of all of the missed experiences and insights these books, and thousands upon thousands of others, might offer. And to spend time on series seems an enormous investment in one writer and story line, however revered.
This sense of limited time also means I am loathe to re-read a book, no matter how much I have enjoyed it, or even start a book that I fear might not be worth it.
But, in 2018, while I am not going to draw up a detailed plan of my year in reading, I aim to take a more considered approach to the books I choose, hopefully ensuring that I get the most out of the books I do read, and that they are diverse in time, place, style and voice.
These are my literary New Year’s resolutions:
- I will alternate traditional classic books with modern classics and new releases. This way, I will have the chance to delve into the distant past, the more recent past, and today. Perhaps I will even be brave enough to attempt an ancient classic such as The Illiad or The Odyssey. Similarly, I will try to choose books in different cultures and places.
- I will read Alice Munroe’s short stories. I have already written about my aim of embracing the short story, and so why not start with (arguably) the best?
- I will re-read a book that I loved, but have forgotten. I still count One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of my favourite books, and remember that it was a revelation at the time of reading it, years ago. However, I know longer remember what happened. I think it would be doing a disservice to a remarkable book not to revisit this one.As C.S. Lewis said,
“We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties.”
- I will write a list of the books that I read, so that at the end of the year, I can reflect on a year of reading. I can see where gaps lie, or where I have spent too much time on a particular genre, location or time period. And I can reminisce about all of that reading pleasure.
- I will resist the urge to buy a book from a stall or second-hand shop just because it is inexpensive. The book might be cheap, but the time to read it is an infinitely valuable resource.
- I will take the time to let a book settle after it has finished, rather than launching immediately into the next novel on the bookshelf. While I might want to read as many books as possible during the year, this exercise is useless if I don’t appreciate the ones I have read. And if a book doesn’t give me something to think about for some time after it has ended, is it really worth reading at all?
I’m not sure if my resolutions will go the way of most made at the dawn of the New Year, or even whether it is entirely wise to take a prescriptive approach to reading; I would never want any rigid plans to hamper the joy if offers. Will the chance that I am less open to new or surprising discoveries be too high? After all, I struck upon a new favourite recently when I bought The Painted Veil from the Salvos for $3.
But, this year, I will at least try to choose books more consciously, and see where it leads. After all, the older that I get, the more acutely I sense the speed at which time passes, and the preciousness of each moment.