Monday, January 25, 2010

The towering intimidation of the "To Be Read" pile

Some advice given to those of us let go from the bookstore was to use the unexpected free time to work through our individual to-be-read piles. Working at a bookstore, you're reading amidst a constant tide of newly released books and upcoming releases, so it's easy to get distracted from a reading list in favor of the first new item that catches your attention. Add to that daily recommendations from different critical sources - New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, etc - plus recommendations from fellow booksellers, regular customers, and, if you're a fan of book blogs, a never-ending stream of books to consider.

Needless to say, any avid reader's to-be-read pile is going to be fairly staggering after a few months of working around those influences. In a way, not being under pressure to keep up with all the new releases, both kids' and adults, is a relief...

Sort of.

As nice as it is to be able to read freely, it's also time to face the to-be-read pile, and that's a daunting task. I coasted into my unexpected vacation about halfway through Street Gang, went on to devour Maureen recommendation, I am the Messenger (excellent), and then spent a few days hemming and hawing around a few recent issues of The New Yorker. Last Thursday and Friday were spent reading a total of forty pages of Denis Johnson's huge and National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke... but I stalled out. It's captivating, heavy stuff, but possibly just a wrong fit for my mood.

At home most of the day on Sunday, I decided to postpone Tree of Smoke in favor of another book at the top of my pile, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, the 2009 Man Booker Winner. The novel tells the story of the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII through the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Henry's historically maligned and vilified chief minister. At seventy-some pages in, I'm loving Mantel's careful balance of accuracy and intimate portrait and gossipy historical drama.

Still, my attention is a bit shot. I'm having trouble focusing on reading without a clear path to follow. Though the pile looms, it seems having so much to get through is stalling out my current progress. I'm having difficulty sticking with a single book when there are many to consider.

It seems that the pile is psyching me out. I need to mentally dismantle the to-be-read list - Sidebar question: Does anyone keep an actual written to-be-read list? If so, how do you prefer to keep yours? Written? Online database, such as LibraryThing? - if I want to proceed reading freely.

Or should I simply reevaluate the to-be-read pile? Perhaps dismantling is futile. There will always be books that pique my interest, and in doing so, they will get mentally added to waiting pile. No matter what I do, there will always be books in line. So trying to resist the urge to mentally take note of these would ultimately do no good.

I haven't come to any conclusion at the moment. Perhaps I am simply burned out a bit on all reading matters, and that the stress of starting and finishing new books should be left behind with my old job. I am not paid to keep up anymore. I should just read at my own pace and try to enjoy every moment of reading that I am doing for myself.

Keeping the television off also helps.

How do you handle your to-be-read pile?

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