Dear Book Lists,
Having long lists of books to read makes me feel both slightly panicky—and like I am doing something wonderfully, deliciously right in my life.
It makes me feel panicky because I’m obsessive-compulsive when it comes to to-do lists. People in my life can attest that I get impossible when there’s a to-do list sitting in front of my nose and I can’t interact like a normal human being until every.single.thing. is crossed off. This is a problem as sometimes I write things on my to-do list like, “get published,” and “write book” and “fix apartment” and my personal all-time favorite, “career.”
No, I’m not clear on what any of those mean or exactly how to go about accomplishing them either.
But having long lists of books to read is wonderfully, deliciously right because it means I’ve been paying attention. I’ve been writing things down when people have been recommending them. I have a list I can refer to when I’m casting about for the next thing to do. I don’t get paralyzed in the bookstore–
This is my brain in a bookstore:
this looks good! but what if it isn’t? what if I hate it? what if it’s a terrible book? what if everybody dies? maybe I should just read the Bible. I don’t want to read the Bible! I mean, eventually. not right this moment. besides, which edition should I read? oh my god it’s been an hour just buy something already. when did books become $17 for a paperback? this is outrageous. oooh, I like the color of this one. wow that is a beautiful cover. why aren’t more covers so beautiful? i should buy this one for its beautiful cover. wait! what about this one? i can’t decide yet, I HAVEN’T LOOKED AT EVERY SINGLE BOOK AVAILABLE IN EVERY SINGLE SECTION.
And so on.
Having long lists of books to read means there are long lists of truly wonderful literature available out there, which helps counter this absurd ennui-esque feeling we sometimes get that all modern entertainment is trash (it’s not) and that “they’re” only writing and publishing crap (they’re not). It means when I look at the list, I can just see long, rain- and sun-soaked days stretching out in front of me in which I don’t hear my mother asking me to empty the dishwasher. (When I was a child, this was actually the most frequent fight in our house— “please stop reading.” Sigh. Youth. We’re trouble. And no, I was not popular in middle school.)
It means stacks of books count as “decoration” in my apartment and that I actually feel like my truest, happiest, most fulfilled and worthwhile self when I am sitting down to work my way through said stack. Maybe other people feel this way while exercising, or while volunteering, or in church. But something about honoring the words, the lives of the characters, and my mind’s desire to follow the line to its end and then begin again on the left-hand side of the page…that’s what I feel like I settle into the world and let it— and myself— just be for a while.
And I forget, sometimes. When I am busy, I often turn to TV to relax, and I spend more hours a day on the Internet than I do reading. And often after flipping through blogs, I can’t settle into a book, and when I have a long to-do list, even if reading is on that list, it doesn’t feel productive enough. It doesn’t move fast enough. It doesn’t give my brain that same hard-wired instant satisfaction of sending ten emails and texting someone and listening to a voicemail and doing the dishes and straightening the apartment and skimming an article and marking up an essay.
But feeling frantic, while it temporarily makes me feel productive and needed and important, does not, in the end, leave me with anything but the craving for more and at higher speeds. Then I end up scrolling endlessly through my Facebook newsfeed and complaining about how boring the Internet is.
So this summer, I honor the book list. I read. I have a mix of high-brow and low-brow, a mix of this’ll-be-good-for-me and who-cares-I-like-it. I have some recommended reads that maybe will help with my own writing, and I have some things that have long been on my list. It’ll be good.
What do I need to read? Leave me a suggestion in the comments and I’ll put it on the list.
P.S. For those of you who care…
- A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
- The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti
- Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon
- Bossypants, Tina Fey
- Veronica, Mary Gaitskill
To Read Imminently
- Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
- What Maisie Knew, Henry James
- Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
- Just Kids, Patti Smith
- State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
- Inseminating the Elephant, Lucia Perillo
- Collected Stories, Amy Hempel