So, I counted.
I own 78 books that I have yet to read. In a typical year, I read between 60 and 70 books, so we're looking at a good 13-month backlog if I were to not buy a single book until I cleared it, which isn't going to happen because I buy new books just about every week.
Don't tell Mrs. Biblioracle that.
It's time to talk about our "To Be Read" piles because the first step to solving a problem is in acknowledging its existence. If you are a reader, you are a book buyer; and if you are a book buyer, you inevitably buy more books than you're ever going to read.
Why? Why do we buy more books than we could ever possibly read? Why are my book reading eyes always bigger than my actual reading stomach?
A good 30 to 40 percent of my TBR pile at any given time could be classified as "books I should have read by now, but haven't." These are usually classics like "The Brothers Karamazov" or "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." At one point, I got it in my head that I should read all of the books on Modern Library's "100 Best Novels" list and began picking up used copies: "The Alexandria Quartet," "Sons and Lovers," "To the Lighthouse." I ended up reading none of them and purged them all in a recent move.
Another healthy chunk of the pile is more recent books that everyone else is talking about that I should read so I know what the heck they're talking about. An example: Cheryl Strayed's "Wild," the book that induced Oprah to restart her book club and also served as Printers Row Book of the Month in July. Hopefully it doesn't meet the same fate as "The DaVinci Code," which I've owned for more than a decade without cracking the spine.
Another portion of the pile is books that people and publishers send to me unbidden (a practice I absolutely endorse), but that often arrive in numbers impossible to keep up with. These books I treat like stray kittens, doing my best to find them good homes where they'll be read and enjoyed, rather than gathering dust next to my copy of Sigmund Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams." My collection of Freud and Wittgenstein and Descartes and Nietzsche and the like embodies another category of the TBR pile: the "intellectual self-improvement" group, where I delude myself into thinking that someday I'll catch up with all of Western history and philosophy, after which I'll either become either a public intellectual of the Christopher Hitchens variety — or a Jeopardy grand champion.
I own copies of every major religious text. I have the first three volumes of Robert A. Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson and have read none. I have "The Art of War." I have Thomas Merton's "The Seven Storey Mountain" and C.S. Lewis' "Miracles." Why? Why not? Looking at them on my shelf, I can pretend to be both spiritual and smart.
Which, as I think about it, is sort of at the crux of our TBR piles, or at least my TBR pile. To me the TBR pile is a statement of hope, of best intentions. Sure, at times this pile fills me with anxiety as I realize that my time left to read is always less than the books available to fill that time.
But the TBR pile also brings comfort as it waits to fulfill what I might need at some indefinite future point. The thought of not having these contingencies covered is scarier than anything else.
Franz Kafka once wrote, "A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us." Let's just consider that TBR pile a whole bunch of axes behind glass, waiting to be broken in case of a soul emergency.
Biblioracle John Warner is also the author of "Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations:
1. "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
2. "Maisie Dobbs" by Jacqueline Winspear
3. "Pearl Buck in China" by Hilary Spurling
4. "The Outermost House" by Henry Beston
5. "A Discovery of Witches" by DeborahHarkness
— Judy S., Oak Lawn
The range of interests demonstrated in this list tells me that Judy may just have a very healthy TBR list herself. Remember, everyone, that the Biblioracle recommendation is, by design, meant to be read next. Judy should skip "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett to the head of the line.
1. "Defending Jacob" by William Landay
2. "Just Kids" by Patti Smith
3. "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller
4. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver
5. "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn
— Zach W., Philadelphia
Zach is drawn to a little mystery in his plot, along with plenty of forward momentum. "The Dart League King" by Keith Lee Morris should do the trick.
1. "A Game of Thrones" by George R. R. Martin
2. "People Who Eat Darkness" by Richard Lloyd Parry
3. "The Dead Do Not Improve" by Jay Caspian Kang
4. "Familiar" by J. Robert Lennon
5. "Warlock" by Oakley Hall
— Casey P., St. Paul, Minn.
I note that Casey P. must also be one of those people who has access to books before they are available to the wider public, because as of this writing, two of these books have not been published. Yes, we should be jealous. For Casey, I recommend one of my own desert island books, "Journey to the End of the Night" by Louis-Ferdinand Céline.
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