Finish Fewer Books
I finished a really good book the other day.
It’s called It Devours by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (the same people who created that bizarre and wonderful podcast we told you about that one time).
It’s set in the desert community of Night Vale, and it’s got all the same wonderful, bizarre things that we’ve come to expect from this fictional world. Ferocious librarians, intrusive surveillance by Vague Yet Menacing Government Agencies, portals into alternate universes where time is elastic, and cute scientists.
Books like this one don’t come along very often, and I felt pretty lucky to have stumbled across something so cool as I closed the book for the last time. But for every great book that I tear through in a week, there are a couple mediocre ones that I muscle through just to say that I’ve read them.
This has been one of my new year’s resolutions for a few years now: finish fewer books.
I love a good book. (You’re shocked, right?) I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember- probably starting from the third grade, when I hid a novel behind my math textbook and read during every lesson, only to get home and have no idea how to do my math homework.
(When I was two years old I found these beauties and decided they were my reading glasses. My parents took SO many photos.)
I used to worry that there weren’t enough books in the world.
I have a distinct memory from the first grade. I’m six years old, standing in my brand-new sneakers at Sunset Heights Elementary. It’s the first week of school, and us first-graders are getting a tour of the building. The gym, the art room, the principal’s office, and the library. Everything looks twelve feet tall, and I am in awe.
The library is the last stop, and the one I am most anticipating. We’re allowed to get out of line and browse for a while. I run my hands over the colorful spines of picture books. The shelves go on endlessly. This has to be all the books in the world! I think to myself.
But the longer I stroll around the shelves, the smaller the room looks. Wait a minute, this isn’t that many books, I think. It probably wouldn’t take me that long to read all of these.
The awe turns to panic. What if I read every book in the world? What would I do if there was nothing left to read?
These thoughts genuinely occurred to me. Was this possibly one of the first irrational worries I’d developed in my life? Maybe. Was I way over-estimating my speed-reading abilities? Definitely.
There was simply too much time and not enough books! At that moment, standing in the (tiny) biography section, I encountered a six-year-old’s version of existential dread.
I’ve since learned that the opposite is true. There are so many books and such a finite amount of time! So in 2018, I invite you to join me in this movement of finishing fewer books. Here are our guiding principles:
- Read lots of books. Read across genres! Try fiction and memoirs and histories and biographies and social commentaries.
- Ask for recommendations from anyone and everyone. This is how I’ve found almost all of my favorites.
- Give each book at least 50 pages, maybe 100. They deserve the benefit of the doubt.
- If you’re not enjoying it, don’t finish it. Not if you’re halfway through, not if you have ten pages left. It might be someone else’s favorite book, but it doesn’t have to be yours.
- For every book you give up on, have another one waiting to take its place.
- If you find a really good one, let me know.