On and Off the Book Wagon

Some of the read books

Six months ago I determined to read the books on my shelves before buying or borrowing any more books.

I came home at lunch yesterday to find a fat package on the table–a copy of Building A+ Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green. Well, that’s for work, so it doesn’t count. And neither does the book the campus library ordered on my behalf, Teaching Your First College Class.

I NEED to read those to be better at what I do, which is working with adjunct faculty.

I can hardly count those as falling off the book wagon.

And I feel I really had to read the Robert Galbraith book that stared me down on the new shelf when I took my son to the library. That was more an act of cultural literacy than it was a fall from the wagon. Also, so many people asked if I had read The Goldfinch that I felt disloyal—not to mention idiotic– saying “Duh, no,” over and over…That was pleading on the new shelves, too.

It really is not my fault that the boys got me a Barnes and Noble gift card for my birthday; you know how those go bad if one doesn’t use them quickly. More Robert Galbraith. The latest Diana Gabaldon.

And then I realized that somehow, I started on Gabaldon’s series in Book Two, yea those many years ago, so when I saw the paperback Outlander on a sale shelf, I put it in my basket. Ditto The Sunday Philosopher’s Cub.

I’m not actually getting more books; I’m merely filling in blank spaces.

By the same logic, I have plugged some gaping holes in a couple of mystery series–Dame Frevisse and Deborah Knott. It is not good to read books in series out of order, I think.

Elaine, who works in the Provost’s office, emailed yesterday and said she got nothing done all weekend because she had opened a copy of The Orphan Train and could not put it down. She said at one point she was reading in her parked car with tears coursing down her cheeks.

Susan emailed and asked if I’d discovered the books about the British midwives–the ones the series is based on. They’re amazing, she said.

I have never thought that recommendations from friends should be dismissed.

Oh my.

I am proud of the books I’ve read in the six months I’ve been doing this blog–I have read some fat books, some fascinating books, some fun books. Some books that compelled me to snag them at one point in my life do not speak to me now, leaving me pondering not only exquisite writing but exquisite timing.

It is August 6, 2014; I started my blog on February 6, 2014. In those intervening months, my family has taken the bold step of cutting the television cable; we now have Apple TV, and we stream the shows we want to watch from the selected services to which we subscribe. But many more evenings find all three of us, once the dishes are done, the dog has been walked, and the laundry moved from washer to dryer, curled up somewhere with a book.

So, taking stock–I cannot say I have stuck scrupulously to my quest to read NOTHING but the books on my shelves in the last six months. However, I have read many of those waiting books, and I have thought about the other books I might bring home–I’ve been choosy and mindful about the obligation I put on myself when I add a new book to my tilting, wobbling stack.

And I’ve defused the guilt, I think, and I am learning to plunge into the land of the book without listening to other books whisper. They no longer murmur, “Hurry! I’m due next week; you have to get this finished one FAST!”

And I’ll share something else–if a book turns out to be a disappointment–if I read three chapters and it’s clear this isn’t grabbing me, isn’t what I want or need to spend my time on, I no longer buck up and sternly command myself, “You started it. You FINISH it.” Instead, I say goodbye to the book and put it on the return, donate, or sell pile. I wave a hanky to dispel the faint whiff of leftover guilt, and I embrace the next book waiting to be discovered.

My quest continues. I’ve just finished Lunch in Paris (fun) and I’m moving on to Women’s Letters. I look forward to the veil lifters that might be in there–the words of women authors in their more unguarded moments. I anticipate treasure.

During these six months, the books on my shelf have morphed; they are no longer burdens waiting to be hefted. They are new worlds awaiting exploration. Or not, if that world’s environment turns out to be unsavory–or even just unappealing at this time in my life.

I may find the library has caught me in its tractor beam; a book sale may beat down my firm resolve NOT to purchase new. But I’ll think about the transaction before I undertake it; I’ll read and savor those books.

And then, I’ll continue to be shelved.

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