Reading Habits

Touch all the books in the box

The last few months of last year – the year has just passed; are we sure it’s 2023? Really? – For various reasons, I have had the opportunity to move a lot of books. I can learn why and why, causes and inciting events, but here’s the thing: I highly recommend this process.

Put your hands on your book. all of them. Are you sure you know what’s in there?

The reason for removing all the novels is simple: the shelves are full and need to be expanded. I look forward to this process for a few weeks until more bookshelves arrive. I’ll sit with my morning coffee and think, I’ll be rearranging your place on the shelf soon.

A little more room at the top, I moved everything up and tried to make a little room at the end of each shelf for books I know I’ll be adding soon (lots of room in Ws because of Chuck Wendig chunks of wayward in my TBR pile). I dusted it off and tidied it up, only to find a dead spider and all the cat hair. Now, everything is aligned; everything belongs where it is. I want everything to be there. I didn’t think anything of, well, this could go into the discard pile. It’s a deep sense of satisfaction.

Pulling down and putting back each book on the main shelf can be a ritual, a trip down memory lane that reminds you, in brief flashes and long reveries, of how you got to where you are now. It turned to the back of a book, found the title and term of the course it was reading, and scratched lightly with a pencil on the back cover. It remembers which books were bought in which cities; it’s a gift; you have a copy in case a friend needs it. (This is another thing I recommend if you’re not hoarding your favorite duplicate content.)

Every time I move, for better or worse, I throw away my books. Rescheduling is also about seeing where there are holes and considering whether they need to be filled. What are you missing? What library reads do you wish you had on your own? Which books were loaned out and never returned? Should you replace them?

Take the book off the shelf. Dust them off, flip through them, and find yourself amazed at what you did and don’t remember. Arrange them any way you like—by size, by color, by author, by vibe—and then, when everything you’ve read is sorted, take on the real challenge.

unread book.

When our holiday plans went awry, I did what any sensible bibliophile in my position would do: I stacked every book in my unread bookcase on the dining table on Christmas Eve, dusted Dust them, contemplate them, and decide their fate.

I’ve been looking at the books, but touching them, moving them, deciding how to put them back together (on which shelf? in what order?) are completely different things. Unread books have been piling up for at least two decades, a sentence that is worrisome and unavoidable for anyone who has been raised with books since childhood. There are some old books that I still want to read. And some inevitably aren’t.

Taking all the books down is an opportunity to organize and pick, but most of all, an experience of simply remembering what’s there, how and why you got there. You can keep looking at the books on the shelf until the cow comes home, but that’s not the same as actually taking them off the shelf. Any bookstore browser will tell you this: seeing is one thing, processing is another. I look at that shelf every day and in the process of rearranging I still find I’ve forgotten something – one book is tucked behind another and one is in the back corner behind the cat tree with a little spine Things that can’t stand get out.

I forgot I had Ann Leckie’s The Raven’s Tower. I put all of Katherine Valente’s books together and was shocked at how far behind I was (I’ve read as many of her books as I haven’t, but she’s written a lot). I piled on books about work and life, work and balance; I created another pile of fairy tale/folklore fiction. One of the stacks is “books written by someone I at least know and should definitely read by now”. The other is Nature Books. There’s a lot of -ish and -like stuff in these stacks. They are themes, not categories.

This is where I get caught up in the confusion. Unread books are divided into non-fiction and fiction categories, but this feels too rigid. The SFF pile needs to be rearranged, new books next to old ones, The World We Made is waiting for me next to Assassin Fate (I’m not ready yet). All my shelf habits that don’t obsess over read books obsess over unread books: size, subject, mood, basically anything but color. (Nothing against the color! I’m just not happy with it.)

I can’t tell you how many treasures I’ve discovered, how many impulse buys or neglected gifts or long-forgotten books seem to take on new life as I stack, sort and re-stack. A bunch of Australian novels I’ve been wanting to read since I got back from a friend’s wedding! All the Annie Dillard books I’ve always wanted to read! The Only Good Indian is still under consideration in the “Would this be too scary for me?” category!

Even if you don’t have a book you haven’t read in twenty years, categorizing the books you have can be an effective way to remember why you picked them up in the first place. It might move the new book to the top of the stack. It may also remove some books from the stack entirely.

Because of course that’s part of the point. The books are double stacked. Too much. I had to give up some. If you’re appalled at the thought of throwing away a book you haven’t read, I understand. They’re both potentials, and they’re all things you might like. But books, like anything, have their time, and they have their time in your life. That collection of essays that felt so essential in 2018 now feels like something from another era. The impulse-buy books of the 2000s are now outdated, and some of them no longer resonate as they once did. Some are like this! Some feel a bit like unnecessary anchors, weighing you down and distracting from what you really want to read.

It’s okay to not want to read anymore. (In any case, if you really need it, it might come back later.) It’s okay to zoom out, clean up, and organize your bookshelves as much as anything else. The things that popped out of the rearranged bookcases felt different to me – looser, brighter, and cuter. I want to read them all in one go. First, I need to finish a book I bought for a book group three months ago. I completely forgot about that one until I found it sandwiched between hardcovers on the unread shelf.

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