A small change in my reading habits

I have a small problem: I have a veritable stack of books (they’d be an actual stack if I actually stacked them) that I have bought, but not yet read.

This has been going on for several years, to the point where I will go through my unread stack a couple of times a year, and take the books that I figure I will never get to anytime soon to the nearest local bookstore—where I am as likely to accept store credit and buy more books as I am to take the cash and go have lunch somewhere.

One thing contributing to this small problem of mine is that I have always insisted on finishing one book before starting on the next. On the few occasions where I have started on another book before finishing the last one I started, I have either given up completely after enough time passes, or insisted on going back to the beginning when I do come back to it.

Time to try something different.

I recently began reading Patti Smith’s M Train. I used to have a copy I bought not long after the book first came out, but parted with it after months of not getting around to starting it. Back in July, I found a copy on the bargain table; still wanting to read it, I bought it again.

A few days ago, at the University Book Store’s main branch, I spotted a book on the shelves that I had been looking for for a while: Claude Arnaud’s Jean Cocteau. At 865 pages (plus 125 pages of notes), it’s a doorstop of a book—so much so that I gave up on the copy I checked out from the library, because I didn’t think I could finish it in time. So, I was not going to pass up my opportunity to get a copy that I could read at my leisure.

On a nearby table, another book caught my eye; its colorful front cover—a black-and-white portrait of a bespectacled man overlaid in process magenta, with a clumsy smudge of cyan over his bow tie, a dark blue over his mouth, and a guitar-pick-shaped green (with solid circles of gold and red inside) over his left eye—practically demanded I pick it up. The few sections of the book I read through convinced me I had to get this one as well. The book in question: the The Book of Disquiet: Complete Edition, by Fernando Pessoa (translated by Margaret Jull Costa).

And that’s on top of the used copy of Rachel Corbett’s You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, a book that I had been seeing so often it was as though it were going to follow me around until I sat up to listen.

(I’ll spare you the mention of the other books in my current stack, some of which go back almost five years already.)

So, particularly with the Cocteau biography in the queue, I have decided that I will try being one of those people who has several books going at the same time. Instead of completing one book before moving on to the next, I will read some of one book, move to another, then to another, then back, continuing the rotation until I finish one of the books—at which point I will add a new book and keep going.

I will start with the books I have just mentioned. I haven’t started the Corbett book yet, but I am halfway through the Patti Smith book, at the beginning of the Cocteau biography (I have read the introduction so far), and have read the first eight of the texts (plus the introduction and the editor’s note) that comprise The Book of Disquiet.

This approach may not increase the amount of reading I do—but, since I will effectively have fewer unread books, I figure I’ll feel better about it.

(14 January 2018)