Remaining Unread: The Top Ten Reasons We Donít Get to Certain Booksby Beth Carswell
Some co-workers and I were recently at the lunch table talking about (you guessed it) books. The subject turned specifically to lamentations over the books sitting on our shelves unread, collecting dust, while we grow quietly old.
This is a phenomenon I know all too well. So what happens? Why do some books languish unopened in my collection, while fresh young faces shoot to the top of my stack, given precious priority placement at my bedside? I think there are numerous reasons some books take us ages - or forever - to read. Here are my top 10.
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1. It's a book I feel like I should read.
Naomi Klein's No Logo, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae all discuss crucial, undeniably vital issues, from manipulation in marketing and capitalism, to the crisis of climate change and its increasingly clear reality, to the age-old nature versus nurture debate in sexuality and gender roles, and its effect on participation in the arts, the workplace and more.
But I only know this from reading jacket-blurbs and reviews. These are the books I buy with the best intentions and a healthy dose of guilt, feeling I should educate myself enough to at worst appear socially conscious (perhaps brilliant) at a dinner party, and at best, save the world. But in reality, I've finished university, I work hard all day, and sometimes, when I read for pleasure, I want it to be just that - pleasant. It's a shame I find it difficult to make myself pick up the more serious, non-fiction books - sometimes, as in the case of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, these can be the most fascinating and rewarding books (if grim and devastating) and go a long way toward understanding people and the world around us.
Numerous times I've come across a good deal on book two or three in a trilogy or series, and gone “ooh! I've been meaning to read this!” and picked it up….only to never get around to procuring the first instalment(s).3. Everyone I know is recommending it.
I know my taste pretty well by now, and I should trust my instincts. Despite its enormous, unstoppable, bestseller status, I know I would loathe Marley & Me, for instance. But every now and then, all the praise and adulation and recommendations get to me, and I buy something against my better judgment. These remain largely unread. I wish I could say the same for The Pilot's Wife, which stole four hours or so of my life, and made me temporarily more stupid. I refuse to link to it. You can thank me later.4. It's intimidatingly enormous.
One day, I will read Tolstoy's War & Peace, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. One day. But I've barely recovered from reading Shantaram (excellent, but mammoth), and that's been a couple of years now. It's just such a commitment to read a giant book.
5. It's a classic.
I feel like I should read everything ever written by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo…I feel like I should forgo all chocolate and alcohol in favour of vegetables, too. And floss more. Constant flossing. I should be flossing right now. Things rarely work out that exact way. If I have any feelings of “should” about a book, it usually sinks toward the bottom of the pile (see #1).
6. My reading stacks get wildly out of control.
Between book sales, gifts, and my entirely revolting lack of self-control, it's amazing how many books I always have on my "to read" pile. Don't get me wrong - this feels like complaining that too many men are in love with me, or this diamond necklace is too heavy for my neck. Nevertheless, it's a contributing factor to some of the volumes lying seemingly forgotten on my bookcases.
7. The siren call of the bargain bin.
When we're standing right there, and a book costs $2, and it has a UKRAINIAN SPY with an OMINOUS MOUSTACHE, and a TORRID LOVE RHOMBUS and a SUSPICIOUS DASCHUND in it, it's difficult to not grab it on the spot - after all, it's cheaper than a fancy coffee. And oh man - suspicious daschund. Good times guaranteed. Even the covers tempt me. A woman in a silver leotard, draped unconscious in the arms of a swarthy astronaut, while the rings of Saturn loom behind? How can it NOT be good? And such a steal! But when you do this a lot - and Lord, I do this a lot - it's amazing how quickly they build up, and sit there, judging you, accusing you, when you walk down the hall.
8. The author wrote something else we like.
There have been so many times I've brought a book home - despite thinking it sounds mundane or otherwise not up-my-alley, because I adored another book written by the same person. The obvious example for me would be Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. I really loved both Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant, so picked up Truth and Beauty despite it sounding like something I wouldn't like (it's a departure from her fiction - an account of a friendship, and pretty preachy and heartwarming). And I didn't like it - or the first part of it, anyway - and I've never picked it back up.
9. It's a textbook or an assignment
Nothing takes the fun, joy or pleasure out of reading like being told we have to. I procrastinated on virtually every reading assignment given me in university (except, perhaps, my literature classes), then would come home, pick up whatever book I was reading by choice, and devour it.
10. We have a friend/crush who works at the bookshop, or in my case…
I work at one of the world's largest and most wonderful book websites on Earth. My job includes researching and writing about books for large chunks of each and every day. Many of those books I suddenly realize I need to read and own immediately if not sooner. Between gorgeous antiquarian collectibles with cherry blossoms on the cover, twisty-turny mystery books and more, it's a bit shocking how many I've ordered as a direct result of work-related book exposure. ...I wonder if I can claim that as a business expense?
Regardless of the whys and what fors, our lunch table conversation reassured me that I'm by no means unusual in my unread-book shame. We all have a few books in the closet - behind the skeletons. Here are some of the books the staff of AbeBooks (names withheld to protect the guilty) haven't been able to get through.
Discuss this article with other book lovers - visit the Bibliophile Club on Shelfari.
25 Books We Just Couldn't Read (Yet):
1. Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist
Michael J. Fox
2. Anna Karenina
3. Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes
4. Empires of Light
5. The Fountainhead
6. Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
7. Moby Dick
8. No Logo
9. Nostradamus, Historiador Y Profeta
Jean-Charles de Fontbrune
10. Radha: Diary of a Woman's Search
11. The Sexual Paradox
13. War and Peace
14. Sexual Personae
15. Life of Pi
16. The Almost Moon
17. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
18. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
19. Stranger in a Strange Land
20. A Suitable Boy
21. The Bell
22. Foucault's Pendulum
23. Profiles in Courage
John F. Kennedy
24. Monty Raw: The Definitive Biography of Colin Montgomerie
25. Cloud Atlas