Monday, January 01, 2007

My Reading Project.

Welcome to 2007. The turnover presents the obvious opportunity to take stock of one's life, and consider changes for the new year. People everywhere are considering changing specific habits and routines, but I'm not taking part in anything like that this go-round. Every few years I'll seize on certain behaviors, and attempt to excise them completely from my existence. For a time I'll experience success, and then once I've got a handle on things I'll slip back into my vices. I'm beginning to see the folly in all of that. It seems that the best approach is to evaluate oneself holistically, rather than to concentrate on isolating factors. It's time to take stock of what I actually did that was positive, and build on that.

I had a pretty good year. However... this entry isn't meant to be a recapitulation of achievement, but rather a comment on a longstanding project I haven't mentioned previously. When I was in my early twenties, my brother got the idea to embark on a lifelong task... he decided to read 1000 books, and document them all. This was around the time that I first discovered an honest enjoyment of reading, and it struck me as an intriguing goal. I decided to join him in his pursuit. It so happened that my early twenties were also a time of intense self reflection. I wasn't sure about what I wanted "to do with my life", yet people kept bringing it up. I was prepared to face the ever-present job interview question- "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I neither had an answer... nor did I desire one. It seemed so abstract, and I wasn't ready for that kind of self-definition. But at the same time, I felt that having some kind of "grounding" element might be a good thing during an intensely chaotic period of my life. The reading project seemed to fit that requirement.

Talking about the 1000-book goal has elicited many different reactions over the years. Some people figure that they have already read that much during their lifetimes. Others are astonished at the brazen quality of the pursuit. It is a formidable number... "one thousand". Try to recollect the titles of the books you have read- it's an interesting and enlightening exercise. Right off the bat, I knew I was going to have to establish an annual benchmark. It seemed reasonable to set the number at 40 books per year. At that rate I would have completed the project in 25 years. It's a substantial pace, but perfectly within the bounds of reality. I've met that benchmark in every year but one. On the other hand, I have read as many as 70 books in a single year. Overall I am ahead of schedule.

It's been a lot less of a chore than I anticipated. I appreciate the discipline and structure that it has imposed on my life. There have been times when I have been extremely desperate and depressed, yet the compulsion to sit down and devote time to a book has kept me on the right path. I credit reading with keeping me out of a lot of trouble. The challenge to continually explore the written word has transformed me into a lover of language. It's a passion with very few downsides. And an unexpected residue of the project is a roadmap of where my mind has been. I can scan my list of books, and remember what I was doing and thinking at the time. In addition, there is a quality of eclecticism in my interests that would surely be absent had I not held myself to this standard.

This year's total was 52 books... one/week... a very clean pace. Here, without comment, I present my ten most memorable reads* of this year (in no specific order):

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel

James Kunstler, The Long Emergency

Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

Peter Fenton, Eyeing the Flash

Arthur H. Lewis, Carnival

Michaud and Aynesworth, Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer

Barbara Bamberger Scott, With It

Richard Russo, Nobody's Fool

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire

Jennifer Toth, The Mole People


*NOTE: If I counted graphic novels in my totals, this list would likely be quite different.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dagrims said...

Good list - I've read two of the titles you mention (Russo and Diamond). I hit my goal of 25 books this year on the 26th of December.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Congratulations on meeting your goal.

6:18 PM  

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