Friday, January 17, 2014

Because I Need Another Project

But this time, I really do, and I was kinda doing it anyway.

The full title of this new project is "Books: Where do they come from, where do they go, and why do we have so many?"

Part 1. One activity for this project is tracking the books I read. I've been doing this since 1996, just writing them down on paper I keep in my Filofax. Actually, I started before 1996 but my Filofax was stolen in 1996 and I started over again. From this exercise I have discovered that I generally read (mostly for pleasure) 25 to 30 books in a year. For what that's worth. I recognize that this activity doesn't correspond exactly to "where do they come from," but it is a measure of reality--whatever I plan when I buy a book, this list shows what I actually read.

Part 2. The second part of this project is tracking where books go when they leave this house. I've been slowly but surely culling the bookshelves--selecting from the books I moved here from Colorado nearly 10 years ago, the books I brought from my parents' house in 2007 after my father's death (blessedly few of those), and those that I/we get here--and donating them to the public library.

Through years of practice, culling has become easier, though it's still difficult. I did a huge cull back in Colorado when I ditched lots of the lit I bought for my undergraduate and graduate degrees (Dickens, Faulker [which hurt, so I kept some], Twain, random Gilded Age novels, the Brontes, seventeenth-century British Lit, modern British Lit, and other anthologies) with the justification that so much of that is available at the public library (and now online). I'm glad I did, but I still kept books that I don't need to own now.*

And most of the time, I haven't missed a single one of the books that has left our home. However, recently I ordered two books from a specific publisher by way of research. I kept one. I think the other went to the Friends of the Library, but I'm not sure--and now someone I know has expressed interest in reading it. Of course. But that's the first time anything like that has happened.

The new element of this part is inspired by Vicki Ziegler, aka @bookgaga. She has outlined a "book tracking" project here, in which she will monitor the flow of books into and out of her home. I don't want to take pictures because it's too depressing, but trust me, we too are DROWNING in books, though I have donated hundreds this past year (at least 1 bag of about 10 books, about every month). She uses a whiteboard and is including digital books.

My plan is to track what goes to the public library's book sale (which is the only place I donate books), and to use a spreadsheet because I am slowly learning to set up spreadsheets (I already use a few but they were designed for me). I have a few digital books but generally read only library books on my Kobo. And I am not tracking my husband's purchases because if buying a mass market paperback gives him pleasure, more power to him. (However, I'll track when that sucker leaves the house.)

Part 3. The final part of this project, for me, will help ensure that the flow of books out will be greater than the flow of books in, because (drumroll) I'm going to read the books we already own before I buy new books. And if I say "I'm not going to read this" about a book, then I get to get rid of it (if it's mine). Books for the in-person book club my husband and I belong to are exempt from this--I already try to find those books at the public library. I also meet a friend via Skype to talk books, and we already focus things available from the library or those we already have.

Still, this commitment was a big deal. I'm not sure why it generated so much anxiety. I do know that some people get a thrill from new shoes, a new recipe, a new (to them) movie or TV series--and maybe that's what I get from a new-to-me book. In any case, we have a LOT of exciting books, and I'll read them. And then I will buy more, because this project isn't about virtuous self-denial of pleasurable activities; it's about NOT DROWNING.

January is more than half-gone and writing deadlines approach, so my tiny little goal for the rest of this month is to set up the spreadsheet while I maintain the other elements of this project. I'll go back perhaps a month (new Christmas books) but basically start with what I'm reading now, and report back periodically.

* Incidentally, clearing out your parents' home is a really good way to face the fact that you, too, will never be able to read all the books. Also that collecting books you want to read is an exercise in hope. My father was nothing if not hopeful. Although his historian's tendency to save EVERYTHING made me a little nuts, it still warms my heart to remember both the variety and the constancy of his interests, as shown in the new books he owned and, presumably, hoped to read some day.