The 500-Book Hangover

January 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 4 Comments

In the aftermath of reading 500 books in one year, one thing has become immediately apparent.  I can’t seem to read any more!  It’s now the 6th, and all I’ve read has been the final 100 pages of a book I started last year.  I keep doing that thing where you read the same paragraph over and over and it doesn’t make sense.  I can only get through 20 pages in a sitting all of a sudden.

There are books all over my living room.  Funny how I never noticed before.  I have 18 books checked out on my card, and another dozen charitably checked out for me by my man Rocket Scientist after I maxed out my account.  They won’t fit in the bookshelf so they’re on a side table.  Suddenly this pile looks like Mt. Rushmore.

RS gave me my own queue on his Netflix account.  I realized that in the six months we’ve lived together, we have watched a video together precisely once – and that was one of two I saw all year!  We also went to the theatre once – to see Watchmen – but that was it.  We didn’t attend a concert or go on a picnic or take a class together, either.

Now that I seem to be temporarily illiterate, the shoe is on the other foot.  My dear husband has been immersed in a sewing project all week, and I find myself constantly interrupting him and hanging over his shoulder.

The evenings seem to disappear almost instantly.  We’re lingering over the dinner table longer, I’m unaccountably exhausted at 10:30, and it seems we barely have enough time to get through our Reading Hour quota before bedtime.

Some time around Halloween, I developed a magnetic attraction to my kitchen.  I started poring over cookbooks while preparing for my first Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t able to pull myself back out.  My reading dipped by a third in November.  It just seemed that I started losing steam in one area and… well… steaming in another.  I almost feel like I used up my lifetime reading quota.

Last year had some very high highs.  First off, I got married!  We also went on vacation to Hawaii and honeymooned in British Columbia.  I walked my goal of 1000 miles – by Thanksgiving Day, no less.  It also turns out I didn’t gain weight like I had thought; in fact I’m down nearly 7 pounds from last New Year’s.  I finally made some kind of breakthrough in the kitchen, and my husband told me the other day, “You’re a better cook than me now.”

Other than that, though, I really did nothing but read.  As glad as I am that I made my goal, and as obsessed as I was over whether I could really do it, I can’t help but wonder now what else I could have accomplished in the same period.

Part of the point of reading 500 books in one year came from my realization that I had over 2000 books in my LibraryThing catalogue, but many of them weren’t books I would choose again.  At the same time, there were long lists of famous Great Books with which I had barely a nodding acquaintance.  I thought I could compress all these great books into a few years, with the arbitrary and goofy deadline of 2012.  Just in case the world comes to an end and I miss out on reading what would have been the defining favorite book of my life.

The bummer was, though, that I kept getting distracted by new books, or trying to read through old stuff from my bookcase, or searching out short books to help make up for the 900-page monsters I couldn’t help reading.  As a result, I gave up a year to The Best Books and didn’t get to all the ones I’d promised myself.  The first one that springs to mind is The Master and Margarita, which I keep seeing praised to the skies.  Why did I deny myself?

What it comes down to is building discipline.  In my years of lifestyle experiments, I’ve finally solved some epic problems, like Getting Organized, Keeping My Weight Down, and Paying Off Credit Card Debt.  With practice, you can transfer the skills you learn by doing one thing – say, following a budget – and using them toward doing something else – like tracking your food intake.  I already knew how to go about calculating what I’d need to achieve on a daily and weekly basis to make my goal.  I also knew how to plan around it, focusing less on other things, and advertising it so I’d feel more committed.  In spite of all that, I still could have done much better in helping myself read more specific things.  It looks like maybe half my reading was actually ‘on target.’

The other thing is that I have a strong preference for nonfiction and I find it a lot easier to read.  I used to read about 2/3 nonfiction, and in 2009 it was slightly over 2/3 fiction.  I just started to miss it and I would feel sad when I would see a thick, juicy nonfiction book I knew I would have to wait a year to read.

I read 500 books in one year, and now I don’t really know what to read or what to blog about any more.  It’s a case of being careful what you wish for.  If you knew you would be able to read 500 books this year, what would you pick?  What if you found you read those things and there weren’t any Great Books left?  What if you realized there weren’t enough new books coming out that met your new standards to keep you satisfied?  What if you finished all the books by your favorite author, who was deceased?

The good news is, I’m project-oriented and I’ve already picked my resolutions for this year.  I’m determined to a) submit at least one book proposal, b) get a literary agent, and c) pay off the last $12,600 of my student loan.  I may be somewhat aimless at the moment in terms of literary goals, but knowing me I will be back on some harebrained scheme before tax time.

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