I started a spreadsheet to track the books I read each year back in 2006 out of curiosity. People were talking about how man books they read in a year and I had no idea. (Turns out I finish between 55 and 70 books in an average year.) I track the date I finished reading, the author, title, and a few notes about each book. It’s a cool reference to peruse from time to time.
It was thanks to this spreadsheet I came to realize a couple of years ago that some favorite writers were falling through the cracks. I was shocked and dismayed to see how long it had been since I read anything by Carl Hiaasen or Robert Crais, and how much time had passed since I last read The Maltese Falcon. There were others, and I wanted to keep up with newer authors as well, so I unleashed my OCD and started tracking not just what I’d read, but what I would read next, creating a formula so I’d overlook no favorites and still find time for new writers, non-fiction, and some who aren’t exactly favorites but I also don’t want to let drop off the list altogether.
It worked for about a year, but now I feel more like Lucille Ball trying to keep up with the chocolate assembly line. Once you get behind something like that there’s no catching up. Good, new books and good, new authors pop up like dandelions in the spring. All my carefully curated system has done is to create another burden, something to be maintained. It’s made reading a chore, even when I’m reading something—or someone—I truly enjoy.
Enough of that shit.
I’ll continue to keep the ledger and a list of who I want to read, but not so I can see who’s turn it is. The new plan is to keep a list of the 50 or so writers I like to keep up with—or re-read—and list the dates when I last read one of their books. I’ll sort the list and check it when it’s time to buy more books. I’ll scan down the list starting with those it’s been longest since I read and see who catches my fancy that day. I’ll also pick up some books by new writers when one catches my attention. It’s unconscionable how long I’ve let some books and writers linger on the periphery of my awareness, knowing I want to read them but feeling the need to plow through what I’ve arbitrarily decided I should read first.
Yeah, enough of that shit.
I wrote last week that a writer must always have that part of his brain engaged; no reading can be solely for pleasure. Reading shouldn’t be a task, either. I’m trying to strike a balance between choosing what I’m in the mood for at a given time without leaving large gaps. As I’m sure you’ve already figured, I’m an OCD SOB by nature, and it’s a challenge at times to find ways to make that work for me instead of me working for it.
My recent self-imposed conundrum has also reminded me of something all writers should remember from time to time: readers do not need more books. Even I could probably live a contented reading life if all I ever read were the books I already own, going over them a time or three each. I liked them the first time or I would have got rid of them.
Few things are more sincerely flattering than to learn someone has read your book; even better if they liked it. A person gave you their money—indirectly—and they gave you their time; few people have enough of either. Think of that the next time you’re frustrated with all the books you’d like to read but don’t have time for. Your books fall into the same category with others. Never be upset by how many people don’t read your books. Rejoice that any do. It’s not like they don’t have options.