Today, I did something that was – honestly – repugnant to me. I returned a slew of books to the library, many of which I had not read. Books that had either been nominated for a major award, or had been recommended by someone I trusted, or had been reviewed well and had piqued my interest or been mentioned by someone I admire as being a really great read. Books that I had requested but had spent days, weeks, just sitting there on my side chair in silent rebuke at their enforced idleness. Idleness that my poor planning had caused.
Despite some of these books being new releases and not available until now, despite some of them being very popular with a very long queue so that timing of their availability was impossible to gauge, this mass of latent books was getting to be a huge problem for me, like a weight around my neck, drawing me down into deep and chilly waters.
It’s not “socially correct” for a book person to admit that books and/or reading causes any kind of problem in life. We’re supposed to put books pretty high up in our list of priorities, and proudly proclaim our dedication to all things literary. Extra points to those who wear Alice in Wonderland quotes on their scarves or carry Jane Austen book totes, or have cushions printed with the J. L. Borges line “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” nestled on their sofas.
Seriously, that warrants extra points. (I, myself have a J.R.R. Tolkien book tote. “Points!”)
But I have to admit that sometimes, books for me do become a problem. Oh, not the books themselves. Heavens to betsy, no! But rather, my sense of obligation in feeling like I have to read all the books, all the time. That’s when books, which were my lifeline (when I lost my longtime job and suddenly found myself with scads of empty hours in my day), and then my anchor (giving me purpose and challenging my heart and brain again), instead became deadweights – visual reminders that I had bit off more than I could chew, that I had mismanaged my time and squandered my organizational skills. That I had failed.
Now, I have to voice a huge disclaimer before I go any further. I am fully aware that the opportunity to spend hours reading whatever book suits my fancy and then write about it is a tremendous, tremendous gift. When I look back at all the years I spent only able to read during bus rides to and from work, or while waiting at the airport terminal for my flight, I give thanks for being able to sit on my porch in the summer shade with a cup of coffee and a good book. Heartfelt, heart-bursting thanks. That I live in a country where I have access to books, and that I live near a library where virtually any book my heart desires can be available to me – at least eventually – is something for which I will be forever grateful. I know that I am blessed.
I am also aware – truly, I am – that in harping on this, and obsessing on it, I am making a mountain out of a molehill. That with a simple shrug and an, “Oh, well!” the problem – if it really can even be called that – is solved.
But I still can’t help but feel a weight of failure, even if it is a weight that only I have fitted over my own shoulders. I feel like I have failed the authors of the unread books that I actually own, those that I keep pushing aside simply because they do not have a return date attached to them. A few have come from publishers, or my editor; a couple I have even bought myself because I wanted to read them so badly I simply could not wait for the library. But yet there they sit, day after day, collecting dust while the library pile waxes and wanes.
I feel like I have failed all those authors who have brought forth marvelous works, for not reading and reviewing them, an action which may give them some tiny boost, some small validation that they so richly deserve. That I have failed all those librarians who maintain the request system, shuttling books daily to those of us who queue up for them; I made these folks work unnecessarily, their good deeds gone unutilized. That I have failed all those readers who are behind me in the queue, who have had their desire to read the book sitting idly on my side chair thwarted yet another day, another week, while I gamble on whether or not I’ll have time to “get to” that title before being forced to give it up. How selfish of me!
And I feel like I have failed all of you, who may come to this site looking for a recommendation, who may be seeking guidance for a good book to read, and instead of helping you I have been watching the finale of Survivor or the final shows of Late Night with David Letterman, or binge watched Netflix’s Daredevil or finally catching up on House of Cards. Or instead I have spent endless, floating hours trolling the internet, watching videos of cats jumping in and out of boxes or a of key scene in the movie Aliens being recreated with a photograph and a stapler, or reading articles entitled “I’ll Never Shampoo My Hair Again, EVER! (Seriously!)” or “Top Ten Scandals of the Middle Ages”.
But…. but…. you know what? I enjoyed those things, too. I spent time with my family, I laughed, I learned. And the librarians will get paid to shuffle those books along the queue whether I read them or not, and that’s a good thing. And the reviews will be written when the books have been read; whether this week or next month or in the months to come doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Validation is validation, regardless, and sometimes it’s best when it’s unbidden, rather than coming all in a clump, eh? And there are lots and lots and lots of places to get great recommendations on books – to think that someone might be hanging on my review is the most ridiculous of hubris that I have spouted in a heckuva long time!
So maybe it’s time I stopped whining and simply promise to check these books out again, in a more leisurely fashion, in the days and weeks to come. So I think I will do just that. Publically. So here is a list of books I vow to read sometime – when I have the time, when the time is right.
Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
Depth by Lev AC Rosen
Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Infandous by Elana K. Arnold
The Hammer by K. J. Parker
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The Dog: Stories by Jack Livings
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Whew! Thanks for indulging me while I worked through all that. Now, let me go take this deadweight off my shoulders – there’s absolutely no reason for it being there. And then once I draft this, I’ll settle in with Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens. It was one of the four books waiting for me to pick up when I returned the 23 books that had been sitting on my side chair. And I’d better get to it right away – there are others who have requested it after me.
I wouldn’t want to keep them waiting.