Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I prefer books as pleasures.

(one of my favorite spaces)
I've made a decision.  I am going to decrease the stack of books on my bedside table.

This stack of books has slowly grown into an extensive collection.  Although collecting was not my original intention, at first it seemed somewhat comforting, all of my interests resting right there beside my bed.  Unfortunately, the comfort of my ever-growing tower of books has mischievously morphed into pressure.  Now it seems all of my books are looking up at me and saying I don't want to be judgmental, but might someone else be interested in us?  Must we sit here patiently, collecting dust?  Read me or let me go!

It is often difficult to resist the temptation of a new book brought to my attention.  For me, the description of a new book is much like the scent of chocolate chip cookies baking.  I read the description and I want the book.  I don't want to wait.  Just as fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies are always the best.

To exacerbate the pressure (and guilt), many of these books are borrowed from the San Francisco Public Library system.  I know it is not right to hoard these books while other library card holders await their return and keeping up with renewing each book before it expires seems a frivolous use of time.  My books were becoming more of a chore than a pleasure.  I prefer books as pleasures.

My solution?  I will keep one book of fiction, one book of non-fiction, and one book of poetry at any one time.  That is it.  Everything else will be returned to the library or book shelf.  This way I will fulfill my desire for variety, but will not take things too far.  Hmmm...  Do I have to include cooking and knitting books in this plan?  Structure is not easy for me.

Why focus on such a topic?  I know, it must seem silly, or perhaps even indulgent.  Must I structure my reading?  Let me explain.

I've just begun Twyla Tharp's book about creativity and habit.  It is our simple habits that make up our days.  Those days pile up on top of one another and become our lives.  Decreasing the books on my bedside table is just one small strategy for clearing away some of my mental clutter.  The new space will allow me to focus more clearly on what is important.

How many books are on your bedside table?  Do you have any strategies for clearing mental clutter that you'd like to share?


  1. What a coincidence! I wrote about how much I love books today, too!

  2. What a truly inspirational post. I joke that when the stack of books on my bedside table towers above the lamp, it's time to reassess, but truthfully I feel exactly as you do - guilty that these treasures sit, unexamined, when they really should be cherished, pondered over, loved. For me, I've found writing on my blog helps to create order and mental clarity - all of those recipes, thoughts, memories are written down to make space for new ones. Thank you for the Twyla Tharp recommendation; I'll certainly search it out.

  3. I have not one, but two towering stacks of half-read books atop each shelf on my nightstand. Two collections of short stories, one by Miranda July and another by Anton Chekov, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem, and a new cookbook for review. Every so often, I reduce the pile to three books and then watch it grow again. I never know what I'll be in the mood to read, or this what I tell myself so the pile stays.

  4. My problem is that I use the San Francisco Public Library's awesome book request system like Netflix. As soon as I hear about a new book I want to read - shoooooop - into the queue it goes. Sometimes there is a 6 months waiting last because the book is not even released yet. Sometimes (as you well know) five come at once.

    One of the benefits of library books is that they don't carry the financial guilt of store-bought books. If I get a couple pages or chapters into a library book and I find out that "I'm just not that into it" ... back it goes.

    Perhaps you aren't as ruthless (with books) as me.

  5. I just collect books and never read them! I don't feel guilty at all because simply owning them brings me pleasure. But I do generally read one book of fiction and one non-fiction at a time. I started a Lorrie Moore book over the weekend and it is divine.

  6. i have the same problem because i plow through fiction so fast - i need to be better about giving them away after i finish

  7. Looking down at the floor, I see that I have 17 books next to the bed. :-) Most are library books. I have this "collecting" problem too. I've been trying to get better at purging -- that is, filling my canvas tote bag full of the books I haven't looked at for a week and sending them back to the library for others to enjoy. It's helped me to keep a running list of the books I enjoyed and may wish to meet up with again. Makes it a little easier to part, knowing I won't forget their titles.

  8. My bedside heap tends to get out of control as well, so I move a few books here and there throughout the house so that I can hide away for a few minutes with something while the children cause chaos. It means I'm usually reading 5 books at a time, but if I didn't I'd never read anything anymore. There's such a feeling of plenty in having a few good books lined up to read. Good luck with your new plan!

  9. Oh, my. Sheepish admission: I have the same problem with books and my bedside table. Not to mention The New Yorker (I have a sneaking suspicion that there are at least 5 issues each week - I swear). While Bill seems to be able to speed-read through every printed material that comes his way, I read the same two sentences each night before crashing. Sigh.

    No strategies - other than I keep books and magazines neatly stacked. And I have two shelves on my nightstand, so I can re-arrange them neatly as needed. The magazines end up being recycled, though, before I read through them. I just can't seem to keep up with them.

    The SF library is a beauty, by the way. You've captured it perfectly, too.


  10. I've got two books on my night stand at the moment. One, a book on writing. The other, fiction. I usually just have one book at a time. I like to compartmentalize.

  11. Oh, the stack next to my bed tends to pile up as well! Its crazy! Every so often I shuffle through it and discover the books that I really intended to read and was so excited about laying there collecting dust. I like your system and the book recommendation, I just might adopt it for myself.

  12. six books on my bedside table. FAR too many.

  13. six books on my bedside table. FAR too many.

  14. What a wonderful plan. I find that I pull a few books out for reading and the rest I keep on a shelf. Simplicity is so lovely.

  15. you seriously don't want me to answer this. lol
    i recently put most of my books on a table and shelf. that really helped.

  16. Definitely one of my resolutions this year is to read more books that I already own, instead of buying more and more books (I can't help it!). But you're right, when they keep on stacking up, they become less like pleasures and more like burdens.
    I'll have to keep that Twyla Tharp book in mind. Thanks for the recommend.

  17. Erin, I've enjoyed reading about your books, especially your Toulouse-Lautrec cookbook.

    Debora, Your last post about your experience in Russia was wonderful. I hope you continue to find clarity via your blog. I'll be happily reading.

    Nikki, I saw Miranda July speak about her book of short stories and everyone in the audience received a free copy of the book--good fun. You seem at peace with your pile(s). Enjoy those books!

    Chris, Yes, I know about the "shoooooop". Me too. I think I might be becoming more ruthless. Enjoy what makes the cut in your queue.

    Roysie, It seems you have a system that works for you. Excellent. I'd love to know which Lorrie Moore book you are into. I have not yet read her work. On to the list it goes! I think I'll begin with Birds of America.

    Char, So...you are a speedy reader like my husband. He moves so much more quickly than I do. I hope you are enjoying your current book of fiction.

    Jessica, I'm right along there with you in keeping a list. The list makes it easier to let them go. It's not so bad because you know they'll be back one day. I hope you are having fun with your current 17.

    Mise, Ah ha, another solution--distribution! I hope those current 5 are good picks.

    Maria, I haven't followed the New Yorker in a while and I miss it. I felt the same, about it seeming like they produced 5 issues per week. It's a tough one to stay on top of. I had a similar relationship with The Economist. I'm married to a speed-read guy too. We are the tortoise and the hare. I didn't document that photograph very well, it is in NY, not SF, but I so wish it were here.

    Tracy, You are my hero--so calm, poised, and organized.

    Heather, I hope my system works for you. I've decided knitting and cookbooks do not count, so add 4 to my well thought out system of 3. Ho hum... Baby steps.

    Giao, Well...I know exactly what you mean. Happy reading!

    Alexandria, Another good idea. The shelf works if the books are books I own. I just need to remember that they are on the shelf before venturing out and buying or checking out new books. Yes, simplicity is lovely.

    Christina, I know you are a book lover. I imagine you surrounded by books, in good way. You could pull this off and make it pretty and peaceful.

    Ann, Good resolution. I'm moving further into the Twyla Tharp book and won't say it is perfect, but there is a lot of good thought provoking information. I'm going to continue reading.

  18. I have a hard time with this one. I do the same thing with library books! I guess I just need to remember...I can keep a list, I don't need to hoard them all at once :)
    Thanks for the great post.

  19. i'm totally a library book hoarder too. the other people waiting for library books must hate me. oops.

    just wanted to pop over and say hello and thanks for stopping by my blog!

  20. As I read this post, I could feel my TBR (to be read) pile glaring at me from across the room. I can never say no to a book, no matter what it is! So the pile grows and grows!

  21. My house is a disastrous bedside table. I have so many ridiculous quirks too, and I worked in a bookstore for about six years, which means my house is a giant fire trap. I lurv it. And if I start a book, I hafta finish it. :) And my stack of books I have reading at once is ridiculous. I need to get a handle on that!

  22. I have about 5 books and they are eating away at me! Not to mention a stack of unread ones in the other room... What gets me is the magazines though. I get 3 subscriptions and my mom gives me hers after reading, so they pile up! If I sit down on a Sunday and go through all them, I feel alot better!

  23. I recently decided to stop buying and borrowing books until I had read more of the ones I have, we have just started a book group which is helpful as we are all choosing books that we have in common or can share around.
    I have lots of other unattended piles in my life though that hold me up, literally, they impede my physical life because I can find anything. My google reader is another pile I need to manage better, that's impeding lots of things however much I love it.
    I like the idea of giving away books. letting go, oh and the clothes !

  24. Usually just the one I am reading but right now I have at least 5! I typically use the library but totally treated myself to new books for our vacation. Since I hadn;t bought books in awhile I went a little crazy.

  25. Oh, I heard Twyla Tharp's book is excellent. I had read her excellent autobio, When Push Comes To Shove.
    I am a hopeless book hoarder - I read several a month...

  26. book lovers unite! i have a collection by my bed, too but i force myself to weed through it and pair it down pretty often. but my desk...well that is an overflow of piles of books :)

  27. Abby, I have a hard time too. I thought I finally had it together when my husband came home and said "Don't get mad, but I was at the library and found these books for you" -- so funny! Besides that, my plan is working. Good luck with your list.

    Lauren, I do not believe it possible that a library goer hates you. We tend to be a patient bunch. Don't you agree? Enjoy your hoarded books.

    Beth, Things could be much worse, right? You'll get to the next book and then the next, etc. And so it goes... Enjoy!

    Molly, Maybe you don't need to get a handle on that. If you are having fun, whatever...right? I've been trying to give up that "hafta" feeling and now you are making me feel guilty. Hmph! ; )

    Erin (fresh365), You are brave. I put all magazines on hold for a while, but I am always tempted, especially in airports. Happy reading!

    Rachel, Yes yes, a book group is a perfect way to promote book focus. Excellent idea! I have some work to do with Google Reader and my closet as well. Oh well, one thing at a time. Only so many hours in a day. Must prioritize. Just make sure writing about all of the fantastic food you prepare stays at the top of your list!

    Rebekah, I can't believe you were so in control with one book at a time and then jumped to five. I am visiting the library just about every week, but I do feel the need to buy a book every so often. I especially like keeping books of poetry and recipes so I can go back to them again and again. I have several books of fiction I reference in the same way. I hope you are enjoying your stack of five. Let me know if you read anything especially interesting. See, there it goes, I cannot control myself...

    Mary-Laure, Oh, tempting, I just might have to read Ms. Tharp's autobiography as well. Books, they do seem to be an essential ingredient for a good life. Enjoy your reading.

    Anna, Agreed! Book lovers unite! After reading all of these lovely comments I'm not feeling so bad. It's not the being organized that's so important, it's the love of reading. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  28. That is a GREAT post, and something I think about all the time! My "stack" sounds much like yours. And most of them are borrowed from the library.

    However, my solution is proving to be difficult: Get up at 5:00 every morning to read for a few hours, and do NOT, under any circumstances "skip around" between books. Read straight through one and send it back to the library.

    Aim high, I guess.

  29. One strategy that helps a little is a site called goodreads.com. Sort of like facebook for readers - you can keep lists of books you've read, books to read, or any other list you want (i.e re-read, etc). You can write reviews, see others reviews, and if you link to friends, get updates on what they're reading.

    I've been putting books I want to read on a list there, then getting them from the library after I've finished one on my list. The only problem is I usually find 2-3 more interesting books when I go to the library! (oh and I'm adding to my list The Creative Habit!).

  30. I probably have about 10 books stacked by my bed. Mostly library books. My order list at the library is long... I am constantly ordering new books; so every week something new arrives.

    Right now I am on a YA fiction project.

  31. Rebekka, You do aim high and you are a very disciplined woman. Kudos to you! I will not be waking up at 5:00 in the morning any time soon, but I do like the idea of reading straight through one book at a time.

    Maija, I was using Library Thing, but I'll give Good Reads a look. Thank you. I can definitely relate to the library situation you describe. I've had the best of intentions, but then I succumb to the temptation of a book (or 2 or 3) not on my list and take it home. I suppose books are a pretty innocent vice. Things could be worse, right?

    RW, It seems we have some things in common--a pretty harmless book addiction and a little YA fiction reading. Last year I read two YA books 1) Goldengrove: A Novel and 2) What I Saw and How I Lied. They were both quite good. What type of YA Fiction research are you doing?

  32. Denise, my stack of bedside books is also the bedside table. hmmmm. my kids would think something terribly wrong if it disappeared. But...

    P.S. I'm in love with libraries too!

  33. Melissa, It seems your stack is working for you. Carry on. As long as you are happy, why change a thing. Enjoy!