My Next Reading Experiment: Project TBR

I have a book problem: I have a lot of them. I have a healthy amount of bookcases (one tall 5 shelf plus top, four 3 shelf plus tops), all of them filled, some with multiple rows. Yes, at least one bookcase (a Wayfair bookcase that was trouble when I got it and hasn’t improved any) is buckling under the weight, the joints pulling apart because apparently books and gravity exert their own forces that defy the laws of physics and incur penalties in this reality.

No, wait, I realize this isn’t a problem like “I think my leg is going to fall off, it’s kinda purple and green on one side” or “payday is a week away and my cat needs a liver transplant by Tuesday.” But I do have quite a few books, which in itself isn’t so bad, excepting I haven’t read all of them. I’m not even sure if I’ve read half the books I own. I think I have. Maybe?

I didn’t mean to get myself in this position. Sometimes, especially with ebooks, it’s because I spy a book I want to read on sale. I know I’m going to read it eventually, so I go ahead and buy it when it’s down to a buck or two. Other times, I find myself being a completist and buying the rest of a series I enjoy so that I can just continue reading [side bar: this habit has bitten me badly a few times, and saved me others. Not all book series continue as good as they start.]. There’s a third case, but I’d rather not go there. Let’s just say it ends with me and books. Not helping is learning that if I wait to buy a book, it might not be available any more. Too many of the books I enjoy go out of print, making copies of them harder and harder to find (and more and more expensive, begging the question of whether it’s worth having the physical copy).

Which leads me to my next reading experiment: Project TBR (To Be Read) (my last one was the Penguin Summer, which is still ongoing, never mind the actual season outside). I’ve got it in my mind that I want to tackle this mountain of TBR I’ve accumulated. It’s a rather large pile of books, both physical and virtual. Enough books, in fact, that I think I could have something to read every day without gaps.

The first part of my attack plan is to read two books at once (normal). One book will be from my “classics to read” list, the other a book from my mountain. If a new book comes to my attention, I will put it in a list I’m maintaining, with the idea that at the end of my experiment I will go through the list, re-evaluate what I’ve marked, and make a batch of purchases.

Obstacles? Oh, there’s plenty. The biggest is that I tend to read by mood. It hardly matters if I have a complete book case of unread epic fantasy (I might) if I’m in the mood for something a little more modern and horrific, or if I’m really ready to get a good space opera on. In fact, it is mood that is largely to blame for my TBR being the way it is.

In order to combat that mood issue, I am going to let myself get books from the library (“let myself.” Hah. Hold your mockery for now, please.). Although library books don’t entirely fall under the TBR moniker, they also don’t increase the clutter of books that is my life. I also can’t say no books that are gifted to me at the holidays, can I?

How long will I be trying this? I gave that question a lot of thought, and have decided to start with a three month trial, beginning September 1st (yes, days ago as I write this) and ending December 1st. If I haven’t completely abandoned the experiment and am still able, I will extend another three months to March 1st. At that point my birthday is only a few weeks away, and no amount of self inflicted control will be able to stay me from wanting to get a few books to celebrate.

And yes, I have the TBR to support this attempt for more than six months if I am good about it, have no fear. What about you? Have you ever tried to tackle your TBR? I’m of course assuming that if you’ve read this far, you’re either judging me horribly (fair), or you too suffer from an addiction to good reads.

Do Not Adjust Your Browser

Like an episode of the Outer Limits, you might be tempted to adjust your browser, assuming there must be some mistake at the sudden appearance of material on this blog.

To say I have been dealing with a malaise of the mind and spirit is to oversimplify. I have, for the last few months, been completely burned out, especially when it comes to coalescing words into sentences, or even words in general. I haven’t written more than a word or two of fiction in months. Months. It pains me to no end to admit that. I get a perverse sense of satisfaction from writing fiction; it’s therapeutic, invigorating, and fun. But between the stresses of work and the real world, the last few months I just haven’t had the energy to spare to create fiction. Or, for that matter, to blog. Or even read. I set out this year with some simple goals, but somewhere along the way I got slowed down.

But, finally, the weather outside is changing. Today is a cool, drizzly day here in the Pacific Northwest, and the beast within my mind stirs to embrace it. Sure, it could be the boost in vitamin D I’ve started taking, but I suspect it’s equally a seasonal response. This is the weather I yearn for. This is the weather I most associate with reading books and writing fiction. This is the start of the Writing Season.

So gather close, friends. The most glorious season of the year approaches!

The Act of Reading

The pixels are still warm on my post about Cummingswrites, and here I am writing about reading. Such is life.

At the start of the new year, I tried a little experiment with my reading habits. Feeling a need to disconnect from the digital, I switched to reading only paper books. There are many reasons to make this switch, but here’s a handful of the ones that I muttered to myself:

  • You cannot escape that when you hold a book, you know you’re holding it. There’s something about that weight in your hands, the visible progress as the pages left begin to thin in comparison to the pages read.
  • Not everything’s digital. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t popularize enough to digitize, or maybe the rights aren’t available. Whatever the reason, there are actually books that aren’t available for downloadable purchase. Shocker.
  • We have a used bookstore nearby. Half-Price books has been wonderful for finding treasures. Granted, it’s not only the closest bookstore, it’s the only bookstore in the area. We live in a desert of brick and mortar books (unless you’re looking for religious tracts or new age manifests, which I am not).

At first, things were grand. I had (and still partially have) a stack of books to read. What could go wrong? As it turns out, I’m spoiled, and that was the beginning of my downfall.

  • The first thing I didn’t anticipate was the weight of it all. Most books I read fall somewhere between 300 and 1,000 pages. When your laptop is already back-breaking, adding the weight of a heavy book along with all of the other trappings of commuting – well, you begin to look for things you can drop from your back. Sitting or standing on the BART is fine, but you also have to carry that for the walk. Bah. I wasn’t up for it is the short of it.
  • I also quickly learned the pain of misplacing a book. As it turned out, it was hidden in my backpack, but not after spending days thinking I’d lost the book. With digital books, I have them synched across most of my devices. Misplace a device? Use another, it’ll pick up right where you left off.
  • A not inconsiderable factor: satisfying the Yearning, that mood, that itch needing scratched, that compels to me to drop whatever I’m reading and pursue something. Eleven at night is not an ideal time to go to a bookstore, if there was one, and if it was even open.  But in this digital age, for all its faults, we can at least download samples to see if a book will satisfy our craving.

And so I ultimately failed the paper only diet. Spoiled, perhaps, but I just can’t forgo using digital books in my life. Wiser friends have pointed out that it’s possible to read both formats – some paper, some digital. I call witchcraft. And concede that that is probably my path too.

For this reading challenge, I challenged the format I read. Next, I think I want to challenge what I’m reading. For too long, my diet has been like the country western bar in Blues Brothers (the original movie – no remakes over here!). I’ve subsisted on a diet of two closely bound genres for too long. It is high time for some exposure, some broadening of the mind.

Some non-fiction.

Yeah, I said it – non-fiction. Books about real things with real people – or at least involving real people, though that won’t always be the case (I can think of a few pure science books that won’t even involve humans except as a footnote). I can’t say whether reading non-fiction will be my only diet – as in the case of trying to read only physical books, the path to success is one tempered in moderation, I suspect. I believe the health nuts call this a balance. Pffft. But we’ll see. New ideas expressed in new ways, about real things? Tell me more.

Because I’m enjoying this writing thing. Sure, I’ve been trying it for over a decade now, but I really feel like I’m starting to settle into my groove with it. But reading (what feels like) the same tropes repeated over and over can only result in fiction inspired to retread the same tropes. The argument that there are only so many stories, and we’re all just retelling the same story in different ways.

But then I look at humanity, and all of the different and fascinating – and horrific, and beautiful, and mesmerizing – things we do, and I figure, there has to be a few more stories out there we haven’t written down yet.

So maybe this post was about writing after all – because reading helps us find the stories that we tell each other.