On My Bookish Existential Crisis

Have you ever stopped to think about just how many books you may read in your lifetime? I have, and I had an existential crisis thinking about it. It all happened when a BookTube friend (time to read!) was talking to me about the amount of books she will read in her lifetime. I was sitting in a church thinking about the numbers and I began to freak out. My wife got really worried and obviously asked me what was wrong. I said that if I read a hundred books for fifty years I will only read five thousand books and this is not enough books.

I freaked out about the numbers for a few days and while I do not recommend having an existential crisis, I think it is very valuable to think about your reading in terms of numbers. Think about the books you want to read and the books you have read. Does your reading history reflect the type of books you want to read, or are you willing to try everything. I am of the believe that there is literary merit in all genres but that does not mean I want to spend my time reading books in those genres trying to find something great.

I have a reading goal of reading the entire 1001 Books you must Read Before you Die list, which would be a fifth of my reading journey. But then you think about the changes that are made in each update (why has there not been an update recently?), this list might end up consuming a quarter of your reading journey if you pay attention to all the books that were on the list. The 1001 books list has served me well in the past, especially when I started my reading journey. This list gives me a way to close reading gaps and the chance to try different genres and styles to see what I like. I know now what my reading tastes are, so I often wonder if this list still has a purpose in my reading journey.

Having thought about the amount of books I will or will not read in my life, I decided I needed to focus on what I want to read. I have a limited amount of time, so I should be reading what I want to read. I began a reading project which I called Project 5000, to remind myself to be more focused. My plan is to read what interests me and remind myself not to waste time on books that do not instantly grab my attention. I talk a lot about Project 5000 a lot on BookTube and on Twitter, because I was looking at ways to remind myself to be more focused in my reading.

The suggestion I was given was to pick ten books and put it on my nightstand, and only allow myself to read from those choices. This still gives me a little variety and allows me to pick books that are interesting me at the time. It also means that I can feel like I am accomplishing something as I watch the ten books dwindle down to nothing. I want to be reading what interest me but I also need to find a balance between my main literary interests and trying other books that sound great.

I know I am interested particularly with post-war literature. By this I mean post-World War 2 till the end of the cold war. There are so many changes happening in the world that fascinate me. From the birth of pulp literature, counter-culture, punk rock, dirty realism and post modernism. There are so many interesting socio-political event and technological advances that helped shaped the world. The idea of impending doom allowed for some interesting changes in people and literature. While my reading extends to other topics, like transgressive and translated literature, I am just fascinated by the world before the internet closed the gaps in globalisation.

My first ten picks

  1. City on Fire by Garth Risk
  2. Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos (translated by Liz Szasz)
  3. Chess by Stefan Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell)
  4. The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov (translated by Andrew Bromfield)
  5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (translated by Christopher Moncrieff)
  6. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  7. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (translated by Edith Grossman)
  8. Ask the Dust by John Fante
  9. When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen (translated by Lola Rogers)
  10. Solzhenitsyn : A Soul in Exile by Joseph Pearce

I was very happy with the choices I made, I thought it was an accurate representation of what I wanted to read and I had found a solution that would work for me. However this was not the case, first of all I had a huge pile of books from the library waiting for me to pick up. This threw a small spanner in the works of my reading but ultimately I did not want it to take away from my focus. While I did detour with the library books, I am up to my last two books from the list, When the Doves Disappeared and Solzhenitsyn : A Soul in Exile.

I learnt that organisation is impossible when it comes to reading, I need to allow for library books, book-club and other random mishaps to take me on a detour but I will always end up getting back to the books on my nightstand. I have no idea how to fit re-reading into Project 5000; that is another complex question that I need to answer. It is a struggle to focus on the books I have picked and not get distracted by other books but I think I am better off in the long run. I have picked my next ten books to put on my nightstand and I do hope this solution continues to work for me. Allowing me to plan my reading and still give me the freedom I desire.

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