Many years ago, in the long-gone era of the early 2000s, the author Nick Hornby began writing a column for The Believer with the to-the-point name of “Stuff I’ve Been Reading.” Each column began with two lists: books bought, and books read. The two lists often had little overlap.
Earlier this year, I decided to try to copy this practice. I already keep a list of what I’ve read, but what if I kept track of how many books I brought into the house on any given month? Perhaps it would be interesting. Or at least telling. Maybe it would be an effective way to convince myself to buy fewer books. (It was not.)
This lasted for about two weeks, at which point I realized I’d already ordered three or four books and not added them to the list, and that adding books to a list brought nowhere near the sense of satisfaction that adding them to my purposefully disorganized to-be-read shelf provided. But I kept thinking about it. We make lists of books we’ve read, lists of the best books of the year, lists of books to give people at the holidays, to recommend. What does a year’s worth of books bought but not yet read look like?
The answer, for me, is three precarious piles of books I still really want to read.