Human lifespans are total bullshit. I could spend all day everyday until I die reading and I still wouldn’t get through everything I’d like to. I’ve got like six books going right now and I keep buying more. I may have a problem.
I like to own my books because I make notes in them and don’t want to worry about what happens to them. I don’t set out to destroy any of them, but I drink coffee when I read, take them in my backpack, and am not the gentlest or most careful person. Almost everything I own has some significant wear and tear.
I’ve sold or given away my entire book collection three or four times and I always regret it. The first time I gave everything away was around 18. I put a significant collection of occult books out on the street. I don’t think they’re the kind of things I’d re-read, but I had quite a few small print books that I found out are actually worth quite a bit these days. If I remember correctly, I got rid of all my Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer 40K stuff around the same time. I was looking to be “cooler” or some dumb shit. Boy was I wrong. I’d love to have all that stuff today.
All of my Beat Writer books went in one go, as did a pretty decent collection of horror novels. From that set I’d love to have my William S. Burroughs and Stephen King books back. Usually I got rid of stuff when I was short on money (always a problem before getting on the Dave Ramsey plan). Other times I’ve tossed everything trying to embrace some sort of ascetic minimalism.
A really popular book about that is Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It’s a great book and has lots of actionable ideas. The author makes a case for drastically streamlining all of your possessions so they don’t overwhelm you. It’s sort of a Hello Kitty Fight Club vibe. You pull everything you own out and toss anything you don’t love or get a sense of positive energy from when you hold it.
I did this before we moved and got rid of quite a bit. Mrs. Lott tried to do it too, but did it her own way (as with all things). Personally, I think she could’ve gotten rid of more clothing, but she did get rid of something like 14 bags of clothes. Someone at the thrift store was certainly stoked that day.
The biggest trouble I had with Kondo’s method was going through my books. She recommends keeping your total library under the laughably tiny number of 100 titles. She says to get rid of anything you’ve owned for over a year, but haven’t read. Most of the books I own are unread, so this was super brutal for me. Eventually I ended up keeping way more than I should’ve, though I did unburden myself from quite a few critical theory books I was never going to get around to. Most of my political books got the axe that day as well.
To keep myself from becoming a book hoarder, I actually use Amazon’s shopping cart as a “to read” list. A lot of stuff I one-click on the spot, but if it’s a title I’m not fairly certain I’ll get something out of, I’ll throw it on there. If I still want it a couple of months later, I’ll pick it up. This saves me quite a bit of money on bullshit marketing and productivity books. One of my big life goals is to write memoir or genre fiction for a living and get completely out of advertising so I don’t feel compelled to have to read all these awful marketing books. I see it as part of my job to stay up on them, but they are fucking universally terrible. You’re lucky to get one decent idea out of each one.
Every time I read some kind of copywriting book or social media strategy white paper I get angry because I know it’s time that could’ve gone to something actually life enriching.
For the most part I don’t read any new fiction, especially from people who have MFAs. There’s just something flat and overworked about most of that stuff. It’s good, but it all has a sameness. They’ve figured out clean, modern prose and now everyone has the same clever precision with rarefied vocabularies. I like some of it quite a bit, but there’s a homogeneity that reminds me of modern websites built with Squarespace. They all look good in the same exact way.
Every few months I pick up something trendy from the last few years, but I always feel like I could’ve read something classic instead and got a lot more out of it. I mean, I still haven’t read all the Tolstoy or Dostoevsky I should’ve. What the hell is some dork from Brown University going to discover that a Russian Count didn’t?
The biggest exception to this for me is probably new female writers. I’m always trying to read more of then because I feel like when I name my favorite authors, there aren’t nearly as many as women as men. There’s no reason from me to apologize for that, I’ve just been exposed to way more dude writers. I try to do what I can to balance things out. For me there’s not anything particularly political about this act. I like women quite a bit and I appreciate a female perspective.
Some women I like to read include: Mary Karr, Anais Nin, Jane Austen, Cheryl Strayed, Simone Weil, Toni Morrison, Zora Neal Hurston, Mary Roach, Pat Murray, Alexandra Petri, and J.K Rowling. I mention these women here in case you dear readers might have some other suggestions.
I read a lot of non-fiction. When choosing in that field I look for stories that are absolutely insane, autobiographies of people who have done something excellent, books about war, or something with a medical twist.
The best place to get book suggestions is from books. Great writers are great readers and the best books usually mention other great books. Maria Popova, the author of the excellent lit-blog Brain Pickings, said something on a podcast (if I remember correctly) about writing down books mentioned in a book on the back inside cover, so that’s what I do now.
I don’t really have an ending for this blog, so here’s my lifetime book goals:
- Complete the entire Harvard Classics Five Foot Book Shelf.
- Read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels.
- Read all of the Modern Library Top 100 Books.
I’m not even sure I could get through all of those in my lifetime, but I figure a little each day will bring me closer to victory. I should probably burn all my unread marketing books.