It’s unlikely I’ll finish another book before the year’s out so I’m calling it a bit early. I didn’t come close to hitting the goal. I don’t even think I hit the halfway mark. I think it was something closer to 55 books. It’s hard as shit to read 120 books in a year. Who’s got the time for that? I read an interview with Sherman Alexie where he said he’s got a personal library of something like 5000 books. That’s roughly ten books a week for ten years. I guess it’s doable if you’re Sherman Alexie. Otherwise, I can’t recommend forcing yourself to read 120 books in a year for recreational purposes. It’s more than likely you’re going to burn yourself out.
Does it count for yearly reading that I cycled through roughly 1000 short stories this year? Even if they didn’t get published? Just because a work isn’t published does that mean you can’t learn something from it? And ultimately does that mean that you the piece is somehow validated if someone learns something from it or impacts them in some small way? That’s what you want with publishing, right? Validation? That sweet crack-like drug that makes you feel like you matter, that there’s a purpose for you here? That in the event fire were to rush across the sky and singe all life from the surface of the earth in a brutal cleansing, you’d be someone they’d make sure had a place in the bunker? That would feel good, wouldn’t it?
Once I unlocked the possibility that I could read two books in a week then I got faster, so that was cool. But the books I was reading didn’t have a natural progression, I was just picking up whatever was on the shelf, mainly whatever small press stuff I’d got in the mail. But since I had a goal to hit, since I knew I could read faster than I had months before starting, it made it a lot harder to finish a book I didn’t care about, or even start one that didn’t sound exciting. When you force yourself to do something you quickly learn what’s a priority and what’s not. If I learned anything it’s that I’m only reading stuff that interests and excites me from now on. Anything else feels like a waste of time.
I’d wished there was a natural arc to the books I’d read this year. Like I said, I was mainly picking up all the stuff on my shelf I’d been meaning to get to, or stuff put out by my small press cronies. It was a year of mainly digging into that world and seeing what it’s all about. Now that I’m familiar with it, I’m kind of done with it for a while. I want to start reading the stuff that everyone else is reading, Colum McCann, Aleksander Hemon, Deb Olin Unferth, that sort of thing. Good books make you want to talk about them with other folks. Small press books are hard because not a lot of people know about them, which makes conversation scarce at best. The very cool thing about small press books, though, is that the writers are very grateful to have their stuff read. And they’ll be happy to talk to you about their books if no one else will. Also cool: they, unlike big name authors, will return your emails and sometimes you end up meeting new friends. Which, in the end, is what reading and writing is all about: connecting.
I liked writing the reviews. I imagine I’ll keep on doing it, especially if I think it’s a good small press book that deserves more exposure. But I’m done with counting how many books I’ve read. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read. There’s no magic number that, once achieved, grants you enlightenment status. It’s a journey that only ends when your mind falls apart. What matters is that you read a lot and get a lot out of what you read.
Noteworthy books read (in chronological order):