If you happened to visit the Internet last month, you may have noticed: December featured bags and bags and overflowing bags of “best of 2015” book pieces. And why not? It’s entirely reasonable, at the end of the year, to take stock, and if this stock-taking culminates in 3,592,743* “Best Books of 2015” articles, well, that just means the world is populated by truckloads – I’m talking huge convoys of eighteen-wheelers – of readers, doesn’t it?
As for me, I’ve been known to make a “best of” list now and again. This year, however, I’m trying something new, in part inspired by a hashtag I saw on Instagram, though it apparently originated on Twitter: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. The brilliant idea behind this hashtag is, you know, read your own books, meaning the books you already own and that, thus, already populate your bookshelves (virtual or otherwise, one presumes). As it happens, I have quite a few of these (ahem).
The wonderful Nick Hornby has given me a lovely way of thinking about these bought-but-not-read books. I’m a huge fan of his witty, poignant, and hopeful novels and have loved discovering that his empathetic ethos carries over to how he writes about books and reading. His pieces, culled from his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column for Believer magazine, have been collected in The Polysyllabic Spree, More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time, and Ten Years in the Tub, among others. I haven’t read them all yet, but I will eventually because how Hornby writes about books, as someone who gets what it means to live them, inspires me.
One feature of his columns involves Hornby accounting for the books he has read and those he has purchased each month, and the two lists don’t always correspond. The books we buy and place on our bookshelves and in our reading queues reveal, before we read them and perhaps even if we never do, who we hope to become or are in the process of becoming. They reveal where we are trying to go and what we are trying to learn.
Here is a beautiful articulation of this from The Polysyllabic Spree:
“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”
And here is a slightly different take from More Baths Less Talking:
“Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having – a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective.”
I’ve often feel badly about the books I’ve bought but not read, unintentionally reducing their existence to utility, as if they were a pair of scissors or a vacuum cleaner that I didn’t really need because I already have one. What a waste of money! Hornby reminds me that my purchases are driven by something deeper, and more difficult to articulate, than function, which are my existential preoccupations, conscious or not.
In the spirit of stock-taking and #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks, here are five books I bought but didn’t read in 2015 and that I am thus putting at the head of my to-be-read list in 2016:
The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald: I bought this after finally rereading The Iliad because I wanted to know if, as some have argued, The Odyssey provides an example of the sequel being better than the original. I won’t know for myself until I read it cover-to-cover. Since The Iliad is still fairly fresh in my mind, sooner might be better than later.
The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres: I just adore the evocative title and arresting cover design. The story sounds intriguing as well. It follows the fates of three families from the tail end of the idyllic Edwardian era through the aftermath of World War I and into the emerging modern world. This is a time about which I haven’t read nearly enough.
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy: The word “apothecary” called out to me because, well, magic and such. The book is also the recipient of the E. B. White Read Aloud Award and was called “an absolute delight” by Rebecca Stead, whose books I love and thus judgment I trust.
The Marvels by Brian Selznick: Selznick’s novels are one-of-a-kind, storytelling that sees words and images as equally significant in propelling the narrative.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: You might have known a Dickens title would be on here, eh? Technically, I already owned this book, as I’ve had it on my e-reader for a few years, and I’ve read at least parts of it before. But I didn’t read those parts in 2015, and the paper edition is new. So I say it counts. 🙂
Now the only question is, which one to start with…
How about you: What will you be reading in 2016?
*Rough estimate, not statistically verified