Culling the List

December 11, 2008 at 12:30 am | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

Somewhere out there is a mythical being:  the devout reader who keeps no list, has no mental notes about next books to read, and happily finishes one book and then grabs another with no second thoughts.  (If this sounds like you, write in and tell me what it’s like!)  Then there are the rest of us, slaves to those lists of Books You Must Read Before You Die or Top 100 Books That Will Prove You are a Moron if You Haven’t Read Them Already.  Or worse, Books Your Coworkers Have Read and Now You Have to Read Them Too.

I don’t really know how I wound up with the list that I have.  In high school, I used to keep a spiral-bound notebook listing books I wanted to read, and in those days most of them came from lists of Books for the College-Bound.  (I wasn’t, in those days – I didn’t graduate college until I was 29).  Then my boyfriend found this list, this bourgeois relic, and said, “How crass!”  So I threw it out.  Somehow a list of books to read started growing again, almost without my knowledge – all I did was write down every book anyone mentioned or that caught my eye. *blink blink*

So now I’m supposed to read 1400 books?  I looked at this list I’d compiled on Goodreads and thought, Whoa.  Assuming I kept reading 400 books a year, and assuming I never heard of a new book I wanted to read, I’d be busy for 3.5 years.  The chances were slim indeed that I’d go over three years without hearing of a single new book that I wanted to read – in fact, chances are slim that I could make it three weeks!  I knew some culling needed to be done.

I decided I wanted this list of mine no higher than 1200, and preferably under 1000.  I started wading through and eliminating left and right.  Goodreads made this fairly easy, at first.  I sorted by rating and eliminated all sorts of things in the two-star range.  I made a more difficult decision and let go of everything that wasn’t available at my local library.  Then I got rid of anything I couldn’t remember adding.  I went through again and cut out all the young adult books.

I ran into another problem while undergoing the culling process.  It seems my list wasn’t actually complete.  I keep jotting titles in my PDA, and not all of them had made it to the master list yet.  It was two steps forward, one step back.

Now the tally stands at 1233.  I’ve cut out slightly more than 200 books that I admit I will most likely never read in this lifetime.  This has bought me 6-12 months.  Why is this so difficult?

It’s an admission of mortality.  The statistic has been going around that the average reader will only have time to read 3000 books in a lifetime.  It reminds me of the Barenaked Ladies song, “Never is Enough.”  At some point, you have to decide that you’re never going to skydive or climb Mt. Everest or finish reading Proust.  (Well, I probably will finish Proust, just not in 2008).  But it’s not just saying goodbye to an experience you’ll never have – it’s also closing the door on a potential connection you could have with another person.  It’s time you’ll spend scrubbing your toilet that, over a lifetime, might have added up to enough hours to read just one more title.


So anyway.  Maybe you guys can help me out here.  Have you read anything in the last few years that you really felt wasn’t worth the bother?


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  1. Don’t you love GoodReads!? It is the easiest site in the world to help grow your habit 🙂

    One book in particular that comes to mind for me is Wideacre by Philippa Gregory. It was just awful – not at all worth the time it took to trudge through it. It’s the only thing I’ve read from Gregory because it was so terrible that I haven’t had the strength to pick her back up.

    Good luck with your culling!

  2. Wow, that is some culling task you’re undertaking. I don’t even dare try and count how long my lists are. As for books not worth reading, well go to my blog and find the rating scale (sidebar) click on either 2/5, 1/5 or 0/5. Those are all the ones I probably shouldn’t have picked up. Know better now.

  3. I just saw that you got it below 900, I am IMPRESSED. I am about to ruthlessly cull the books I already have on my shelves. If they have been around for years I clearly will never get to them.

  4. I got the same requests to add some info to Book Blogs. Do you think I should make a group about bookish charities, mention it in the discussion, or leave these kinds of things out of the site altogether? What do you think?

  5. I think bookish charities are always a good thing. Mention them, and people can decide whether to contribute or not. Don’t mention them, and they won’t even know they exist!

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