Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Year of Reading: The Unreads

For the past few years, December has filled me with dread, despair and the kind of anguish that can only be shared by a kid whose parents take him to a candy store after the dentist has wired his jaw shut.  Cruel parents, you say?  Well, yes, but that's also how I feel about all the clocks and calendars that funnel and compress and chop my days into bite-size pieces.  You see, I have a problem--one which faces any obsessive-compulsive reader like me: too many books, too little time.  It's the cry of lament heard everywhere from Twitter to public libraries.

Books are my delight, but the tick of the clock is my enemy.

As a blogger and book collector (you say "hoarder," I say "collector"), I take in far more books than I could ever possibly read, not only in a year but in a lifetime.  If you visit my house, you'll have to pick your way through stacks and stacks of trade paperbacks, piled haphazard and teetering, and tiptoe past swaying columns of hardcovers that could come crashing down upon your head with just one soft cough.  My dear wife, God bless her, tries to maintain a neat and lovely home, but her decorating taste is thwarted by sights like this

and this

(actual, candid shots which I took just minutes ago).  And that's not even counting the hundreds of e-books which obesely fill the limits of my Kindle.

Sure, some of these books are ones whose spines I know I'll never crack.  But there are many, many, many titles in my collection that I really, really, really want to read.  Right now.

So, every December I lace up my running shoes, get into the starting blocks, tense my leg muscles, and make a mad, Olympic-style, arms-flailing sprint to the finish line of the year (only to keep jogging around the track in January, of course).  It's a futile dash in a neverending loop--sort of like running on an escalator in an M. E. Escher lithograph.  Apart from the two books I'm wrapping up this week (Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe and The Liberator by Alex Kershaw), I know of only two other books I might be able to finish before New Year's Eve: Misfit by Adam Braver and Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players, and Stand-Ins by Anthony Slide which I'm reading for research purposes as I work on my next novel, Dubble.  If I'm lucky, I'll also be able to squeeze in one book each by Agatha Christie and Louis L'Amour--an annual tradition of finishing off the year with a couple of light palate-pleasers by these two authors.

But behind me stretches a long line of books I wish I'd read in 2012.  This is only a partial list of titles sitting in those life-threatening to-be-read piles (my sincerest apologies to all those authors and publicists whose books I said I'd try to read this year; all I can say is, my ambition was bigger than my allotted hours):

The Rules of Inheritance: A Memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith
The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow
The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows by Brian Castner
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge
Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell
Night Swim by Jessica Keener
Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne
Wilderness by Lance Weller
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories by Nathan Englander
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska by Colleen Mondor
The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau
What Happened to Sophie Wilder? by Christopher Beha
Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
NW by Zadie Smith
May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max
The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Diana Wagman
Little Century by Anna Keesey
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel
Familiar by J. Robert Lennon
Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail by T. J. Forrester
Sutton by J. R. Moehringer
A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Elegant Punk by Darlin' Neal
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Evening Hour by Carter Sickels
Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller
In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes
Boleto by Alyson Hagy
The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
The Cove by Ron Rash
Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
The Odditorium: Stories by Melissa Pritchard
Zombie by J. R. Angelella
At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Anne Barnhil
The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot
The Exceptionals by Erin Cashman
The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White
Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Now do you see my dilemma?  And that list is only the tip of the tip of the iceberg; it doesn't even include last year's books which spilled over onto this one--not to mention the perpetual residents of my classics bucket list: books like Lolita, the entirety of Proust's In Search of Lost Time (a fitting title for my situation), and any novel by Thomas Hardy.  I doubt it's humanly feasible to read everything, as much as I want to.  That's why I must be selective in what I read.  Which is not to say I'm not also filled with regret and longing for all the Unreads of 2012.

And what about you?  What books are on your to-be-read list?  Let us know in the comments section below.


  1. I have the same thing going on. I can't read as fast as they came in. I have been culling regularly. This is the reason I haven't been entering your contests! I made a spreadsheet and at the worst time there were 403 unread books. I have struggled and read and read and now they are down to 392! We, if we can sell our house, will be moving to a one bedroom apartment and I have been studying the floorplan (when I am not reading) for where I can put my books!

    P.S. I am addicted to free e-books, there are now in the thousands but I still only read one a month.

  2. I feel your pain, Carol, I feel your pain. The only true solution is to Read Faster! (Not Buying Books is not an option for me)

  3. I have a few of the same books as you and my pile, well it's its own bookshelf...I can't help myself. I wish I could read faster and yet when I read quickly I feel like I didn't fully emerge myself into the story and wish to reread it.

    Is it wrong that I was going through your list thinking man I want some of these, lol. And like you I wouldn't have a chance to read them. :D

    A few in my pile is Gone Girl, The Light Between Oceans, The Red Book, The Unfinished work of Elizabeth D., The Crown, THe house of Velvet and Glass, The Weird Sisters, Night goes on and on.

    1. Can I say anything to put The Light Between Oceans higher on your pile? It's really tremendous. I've been recommending it at every tour stop and book club.

      On to 2013, another year, another pile!

  4. My unread list is eerily similar to yours. This was going to be the year of reading new releases so I wouldn't "get behind". Ha! What a joke. Now in addition to the other 15,000 books in my house, I've also added two double-stacked shelves of new hardcover releases that I really want(ed) to get through in 2012.

    I was feeling guilty about how much money I was spending on new hardcovers, so I started getting my new releases from the library.

    (An aside: lucky you, being sent books by authors and publishers!!! That alone makes being a successful author worthwhile!!!)

    You know where this is going don't you? Now that I regularly read library books (always picking up more when I take back the old stack, I rarely glance at the 100-read-NOW books that wait beside my desk.

    The tip of THAT iceberg contains: Shine, Shine, Shine; The Light Between Oceans; Telegraph Avenue; Sweeth Tooth; Beautiful Ruins; Sacre Bleu; The Forever Marriage; The Diviners; The Middlesteins; The Dog Stars; Heading Out to Wonderful; etc etc etc.

    Today I just finished "The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving" which is my #2 pick of the year (it was the 148th book I've finished this year; I'm aiming for 150 - looks like I'll make it. Incidentally my fave book of the year is Heft by Liz Moore. Have you read THAT one?).

    Can't recommend Revised Fundamentals highly enough. Felt like a kind of grown-up The Fault in Our Stars; a brilliant way to end the reading year especially in light of the recent events in CT (in a weird sort of way). 'Course, Revised Fundamentals is a library book. (I'm sad to part with it.) Now I'm on ANOTHER library book: Life Among Giants, which I can't put down. Strange and utterly absorbing.

    Ok, enough writing. Gotta get reading again!

    Happy holidays!

  5. I just came in here to say OMG GO READ BEAUTIFUL RUINS ALREADY.

    Yes, that warranted the ALL-CAPSING and the OMG.

    My to-read pile is also fairly ridiculous, so I know your pain. (Wonderful pain.)

    As you were.