My Year in Books

About a week ago I did something unprecedented in my life. I instituted for myself a one-year book-buying moratorium.

I told myself I would never do this.

But for several reasons it seemed like the best thing to do. For one, I’ve bought many books in the past year that were both very expensive and that I want very much to read. And even with my extremely limited book-buying budget, I can still buy much faster than I can read them. For two, every time I passed the section of my bookshelves that housed all my recently purchased to-read books, I wanted to read them all at once. But as the year wore on, the larger that section of the shelf got. (This of course is the perennial problem for any book lover and one that I myself have actually refused to acknowledge as a problem in the past, but read on, dear friends, read on!) The tipping point came this Christmas when I glutted myself at Eighth Day Books, as I often do when I visit my home in Kansas. Now the section of my shelf that I wanted to get to immediately was simply overwhelming; the very top, the burning edge, of my to-read list kept getting larger and larger. The books I had bought over a year ago and simply just meant to get to some time I would never get to at the rate I was going. I had reached a sort of critical mass, if you will. (Actually, that is exactly what I had reached: a critical mass. That is the perfect term for it.) I needed a plan.

Hence the book-buying moratorium. Not only did I now have in my possession every book that I really wanted to read, I felt I also needed to prove to myself that I did indeed want to read books more than I wanted to buy them. And for me that meant hunkering down for at least a year and tucking in.

So a week or so ago I pulled off all the books on my bookshelves that I had bought and not read in the past five or so years, piled them in front of the couch, and opened an Excel spreadsheet.

By far the three categories that I read the most are: fiction, historical or patristic theology, and dogmatic or culturally oriented theology. (There are others, but these form the backbone.) So throughout 2009 I will generally be cycling through three books per month, one from each category. This is soothing to me, as writing down lists of overwhelming things often is. The void has been circumscribed, the unnecessary cordoned into oblivion. (I’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy lately.) I typically just read whatever suits my whimsy at the time, but as I’ve pointed out, that was resulting in a lot of bucks spent at the bookstore and a lot of unread books. So now when my recently purchased books call out to me from the shelf, I say to them, “Don’t worry! You are scheduled for March. Not too long!”

Not that whimsy is all bad, mind you. Whimsy got me through all the major works of Dostoevsky in 2008, so I’m not complaining. But this is what the moment calls for. So in the fiction deparment this year I’ll be reading a lot of Michael Chabon, among others. And in the theology department I’ll be spending most of my time in the fourth century with Nicene theologians, a good bit with the Byzantines in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, and then on to some Thomists near the end of the year.

Of course none of it will work out like this, but it feels good at least to have a plan.


5 comments so far

  1. Lee Ella on

    I can’t believe you can buy books more quickly than you read them. This is a problem I should dearly love to have. Of course, I’m speaking as a single person who lives in a small town with no cable. But still.

  2. lucashannon on

    “Of course none of it will work out like this…” It’s a great idea; one I should try as well. Good luck, Jeff!
    p.s. Where is your category for Methodist history?

  3. Shelley on

    Here Here!! I heartily approve of this decision! Do you hear this, Levi?? Ahem!!

  4. Robert on

    Did I mention the forthcoming Brazos book on Paul by Milbank and Zizek…?

  5. jeffreimer on

    La la la! I’m not listening!

    (Though I didn’t say anything about free copies I receive in the mail, wink wink.)

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