You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

of the Neverending Stories

I had to have a little chuckle when I came across this post this morning, where Stan Carey describes his 'to-read' stack of books as a mountain. Then he corrects himself and points out that the mountain is actually more of a range. Now there's a man who's honest with himself, I thought to myself. I am still in total denial, obviously. I'm still just calling mine a 'pile' - though now I'm suddenly aware that this is a terribly inadequate word.

Since as long as I can remember, there has always been, somewhere, in some form, a pile of books that I intend to read.

This is what my Pile looked like a fortnight ago when I started writing this post.

Then I procrastinated, which of course is something I'm very good at... though now I'm kind of glad for it, because I got to find that gem about the Pile becoming a mountain range. In the meantime there was another trip to the library. And now my Pile looks like this.

These pictures, however, only show the portion of the Pile that is visible to me and on hand at the time. The Pile in these pictures really are just the tip of an enormous literary iceberg. Beyond the immediacy of the physical presence of the Pile, there are great shadowy heaps of titles and authors swimming around in the part of my mind that is devoted to remembering the things I want to get around to at some point. There are so many titles and writers in my internal memo database that even I can't access the whole list all at once. I can't even imagine it. Really, I've tried, and I just can't wrap my head around the concept of all the books that would potentially exist in the Pile if I could see it all at once.

I remember having a revelation about the infinite nature of the Pile about two years ago. I really wanted to re-read one of my favourite books. It was probably Anne of Green Gables, because the forty-seven times I read that book through my childhood were just not enough. I never want to forget how awesome Anne is. And at the time, I thought to myself, okay, well I'll just finish reading the books I've got here in my Pile now, and then I'll get to it. But, of course, by the time I reached the last book in that particular incarnation of the Pile, it had already grown again. Suddenly I realised that the Pile would always be there. No matter how much  I actually read in my life, the Pile is still going to be as big as ever was, if not bigger. There are always going to be new books popping up into my awareness that I will want to read, and even if everybody stopped publishing anything new right now, I would still need several lifetimes just to get through all the books that are already out there that I want to read. Every now and then, I get a little bee in my bonnet about some particular topic or historical personage, and I'll go to the library catalogue online and look up everything I can find on the subject. A lot of the books I find I won't bother reading through, but a lot of them, I will. I remember realising, all of a sudden, that the Pile would always be there, no matter how much or how little I read. One day, I'm going to die, and I'm going to leave behind a Pile of books that I didn't get time to read. That's just life.

A few good insights came out of my revelation. The most important one for me, I think, is to always remember that life is just too short to read crappy books. Or even just mediocre books. I resolved then not to waste any more time reading anything that isn't just an absolutely amazing, fabulous, life-changing book. I'm a lot harsher now in culling my reading Pile. If I start reading a book, and a little way in it hasn't changed my life yet, I give up on it and look for a more important book. You'd think I'd start running out of books to read with such incredibly high standards. I was kind of hoping I would. But no. Every week of my life I just find out about more books and writers that really are that brilliant. Even if I'm not looking for them.

That was two years ago, and I still haven't re-read any of my favourites. I sometimes despair that I ever will again, with the Pile towering over my shoulder, calling out to me with the irresistible temptation of the potential of the unknown.

But, if I could, would I have it any other way? Um, no, actually. Now excuse me, I really have to wrap this up and get back to my reading.


  1. i've found the trail along the range, at least for the Piles in my life. I have at least 4 piles, but fortunately they have a mild order to them. I like to read 4-5 books at one time. They are almost randomly chosen from the genres I enjoy reading. I read one sci-fi/fantasy novel, alongside an anthroplogical selection, while reading a pagan/occult tome, also with an original historical text, and lastly a book (novel or otherwise) of decidedly feminist leanings.

    As long as I chose one book at a time from each "genre" my reading appetite is satisfied. This however does not include the series I read on "repeat" (A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter) or the literary junk food I gorge on thanks to free apps on my ereader.

  2. To find the trail along the range - that is a beautiful sentiment. That's what I'm going to look for now, since I know that I am never actually going to scale the summit.