Okay, so after that introduction I did yesterday, I was going to just get on down to this here reviewin’ buisness. However, I think we’ve gotta talk about something first: The List.
As I was getting ready to line up my books that would be read and reviewed next, happily beginning the process of pulling books out of the middle of my shelves, out of the middle of piles by my desk, from beneath virtual couches and behind virtual dressers, I encountered A Problem. Namely, I noticed that even with the deliberate mission of unearthing books from oblivion, my hand hesitated to take some of them down from the shelf. What was weirder was that there was absolutely no good reason for my hand to do this. It wasn’t like I’d become blind to the fact that one of these books was Mein Kampf in disguise or something. There wasn’t even a tedious Knitting for Dummies or even a cover with an improbable amount of silk and bosom covered with artfully placed curly letters to be embarrassed by.
Let me remind you- This isn’t the Scraping the Bottom of the Proverbial Barrel Blog- though I’m sure that exists somewhere and would take a morbidly short amount of time to find. These are perfectly inoffensive at the least and in some cases, absolutely celebrated books that just happen to have not received my attention for one reason or another. But as I overcame this hesitation, no doubt born of habit, I thought about all the excuses that I make and that I’ve heard other readers make about why they aren’t willing to commit to a book, often a book that they have little to no experience with that has been sitting on their TBR for years. And what is weirder is that these books tend to be books that they have expressed interest in at one point (had to have, to even get on their to-read list to begin with) and perhaps have even gone so far as to purchase, so there isn’t even the laziness excuse to support them. Thinking about why these books languish, I came up with a list of excuses (some more legitimate than others!) about Why Readers Procrastinate on Reading: AKA- How those Permanent Middle of the Pile Books Come To Be, ranked vaguely in order of the amount of times I have personally used this excuse or heard it from other readers:
1. “I just don’t have the time! Whenever I read Great Memorable Classic, I want to really have the headspace to think about it!”- This seems like a pretty legitimate excuse at face value. I completely understand that if you are going to devote your time to a work that you are, after all, most likely reading to be able to discuss and impress your fellow bibliophiles with at dinner parties (er, I mean, to further your personal growth via the words of the sages), I can appreciate that you’d want to make sure that you’re using the best of your brainwaves. But also, let’s agree that there’s a limit to this excuse, right? At some point you are going to have to Make the Time, like you do for learning how to make sushi and taking up pilates, or it’s not going to happen. With a thousand page monster of a Russian classic, there’s just never going to be a magical protected timeblock that will present itself to you, gift wrapped, for the purpose of reading it.
2. “I’m just not in the mood for a book that’s about the inner feelings of dolphins- I’ll come back when I’m more in sympathy with the subject.” – I sort of support this one from the perspective of the idea that if your life is pretty go-get-em-take-no-prisoners-on-the-move-constantly right now, you’re maybe not in the best headspace to appreciate Hamlet. Then again, perhaps that is the one time when his endless indecision might be a refreshing change, no?
3. “I read x other book by this author and I didn’t like it. I’m keeping this book around because everyone else says it is amazing, so maybe one day, but…” -So here’s the thing- obviously something about this book or this author is keeping you hanging on. If you hated this author that much, this would have been an automatic no-go, no-way, no-how. There’s some reason you want to read this book, even if it’s just to prove to yourself that you were right the first time, so get on with it!
4. “I Wasn’t Feeling Those First Few Pages, But Maybe It Was Me So Maybe Another Time….” -Yup. Maybe it was. Maybe that Tuesday something wasn’t sitting right in your digestion or your boss sent you a passive aggressive email that was lurking in the background of your mind so you couldn’t concentrate for shit. So try those first few pages again- the worst that can happen is that you’ll realize it really was that bad and remove it from the pile forever- or, you’ll find a fabulous adventure that you were a fool not to participate in before.
5. “Well, I usually don’t read That Kind of Thing, but people told me that it was good so maybe…” – I know it is so hard to get out of your comfort zone! I completely respect that. But trust your impulse! If you thought it looked good enough to pick up something that there was, in the course of events, very little chance you would have looked at on your own, there’s probably a whole lot to recommend it. I have found some of my favorite reads via these sorts of recommendations.
6. “Well, I was reading this but then this thing happened and I got distracted and never got back to it….”- So.. no time like the present, right?
7. “It’s pretty high on my pile, I swear, I just keep being so tired that I need something comforting, something mindless, instead… I know it’s good, though! I’ll get there!” – Look, I feel you. Some days I come home and can barely eat and shower before passing out incoherent with tired. But even the best comfort reads pale and become sad broken down former comfort reads if you push them too hard. There are great books out there that some people term ‘mindless’ sometimes, but you know what? Sometimes the books that come highly recommended, that you know will demand things from you… sometimes they can revive you. Sometimes they will add beauty and joy back to your life, get you interested in debating something again. Again, I completely understand this excuse but I also know that if you push through that feeling there can be wonderful discoveries on the other side.
8. “I am going to read that- I just want to read x thing and y thing and z thing and xyzffdssfs thing before I get to it… I want to be prepared…”- Wow! I definitely admire ambitious reading plans- and if this is true, you had best get on reading x thing because it sounds like you’re going to be adding a few decades to your age before you get to this thing. And do you REALLY need to read x thing and y thing AND z thing before you read it? Now if you are reading the series of dragonlordzofthronesoftherings which stretches to 20 books and a half (possibly 34.75 when they’re REALLY done with it), I get you. But otherwise… there are few books, I feel, that need this level of preparation. Even the most intimidating books are far more welcoming than you expect them to be, in my experience.
9. “It was a present, I didn’t really pick it… My friend said it was good, but it’s not what I normally read but I don’t want to hurt her feelings…” -Okay, I get why this book is still hanging around your house. I grant you Book Lover’s Immunity for this excuse for the most part. Display that thing and continue to claim that you’ll get to it all you like. But maybe you could also read the Cliff’s Notes version and get the guilt cloud out from over your head? Or, you know, if your friend REALLY loves it- maybe you could just go ahead and read it? At least it would be a bonding experience for you, even if you really don’t like it. There has to be SOMETHING in there that you could have a friendly fight about over cocktails.
10. “I know it’s one of those books that everyone HAS to read, so I will, but UGH, I just can’t bring myself to it…” -First of all, nobody HAS to read anything after they graduate, unless it is that email you really don’t want to click on from Freddy in Accounting. Secondly, if you really can’t get over this childish reflex action, then you should just get rid of the book. … except you really really shouldn’t because I swear some of these “have to read” canon classics? Legitimately amazing! I promise! Even if you hated the thing the first time around when you HAD to read it. Give it another shot without Miss Thortonsmithjones standing over your shoulder demanding you enthuse about particular themes and cultural significance- you might be surprised. That’s how I discovered Tolstoy, who I absolutely could not love more. That’s how I got over myself and found two Hemingway books that I really, genuinely like a lot. I’m still working on my Faulkner bias, but I’ll get there! Come on, how about we work on it together?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard or used these excuses. There are many more I could list, this is just the list of the Greatest Hits. In the end, this post is basically another way of saying, shut up, hand! Shut up weird brain hesitation with no good reason to back it up! This is why I started this blog! This was entirely the point- not listening to these nonsensical half-uttered excuses any longer and giving potentially perfectly wonderful books a chance. I’ve decided that as I keep reading I am going to include which one of these excuses I have been using to myself in order to justify why I am both keeping this book and keeping it sitting forever in the unread pile waiting for the day of Someday in the Land of Never Never on the other side of the rainbow. This is to hold myself accountable, and hopefully, get myself to realize over and over that if a book is worth seeking, if it is worth keeping, it is worth reading as soon as possible.
The first few reviews starring the first 2 books that I pulled out of the middle of my TBR pile: The Perfect Scent and Voltaire in Love.
And later this week, I will post about a Second Chance Book: a book that I gave another chance to after a doubtful first experience and the outcome of that experiment.