our reading lives

I am reading again, really reading–as in one book after the other. Novels that have been waiting in my stack for years. And I am creating spaces in my tower of books. If you read my last post, you know that I am discarding as well. I believe I tossed two books before I settled on The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin.

In the Jan/Feb issue of Poets & Writers, Joshua Bodwell wrote:

I won’t get to all the books I want to read in my lifetime.

[C]onfronting the fact that there is a limit to the number of them we will read feels a bit like realizing there’s a finite amount of oxygen in the room.

At the beginning of the year, Bodwell made a list of the best books he’d read in 2011–Bodwell’s Baker’s Dozen 2011. Apparently some writers (Richard Ford, Dave Eggers) don’t like to make lists, but Bodwell discovered that the act of making a list helped him to reflect on his reading life in different ways.

Simon Van Booy, the author of Everything Beautiful Began After, wrote:

If I didn’t read, I wouldn’t be able to write a word. Reading is the food that fuels my writing.

Here, at the beginning of summer, is a good time to consider reading lists. Do you make them? Do you have one for the summer? I love lists. I wish I had a list of every book I’d ever read. I wonder how many I could remember…. How would you describe your reading life?

18 thoughts on “our reading lives

  1. Sporadic.

    I hate to think about not getting to all the books I want to read in my lifetime. It’s as bad as my wanderlust: I think (and get depressed) that I will die not having covered every inch of the planet.


  2. I like your list idea of keeping track of what to read and what has been read. I have three medium-sized stacks of books on my nightstand right now and most if them are short story collections, which just a couple are craft books. All of them inspire and inform my writing.


    • Hi Tracy! I remember keeping a list of what I was reading back in third grade. I kept the list on index cards. I also remember throwing it away–thinking why in the world would I ever want it.


  3. I feel keenly aware of how I won’t have time to read everything I want to in my lifetime … Reading is my favorite thing to do, and I sometimes feel I do it with a hint of desperation because of my awareness of life’s limited time.


    • Hi Lindsey, does this awareness play into the books you choose? Do you discard books because of it? Until recently, I never thought about it. Now I don’t want to waste my limited amount of reading time on a mediocre book. Great to hear from you.


  4. Ah yes, all the books we want to read, should have read, have read and remembered or forgotten. Mine are in piles all over my house, invading our house in an entirely messy fashion. I like the idea of a list but also discovering texts, coming across them by chance, serendipity, bumping into a book as we walk out the door and meet a friend who describes what they’ve read and I love this idea of the world getting bigger, opening up in a unexpected fashion with all that we read, every book, another vision, another universe.


    • Hi Susanna! Oh yes, let’s don’t forget the books we need to reread b/c we’ve forgotten them. It’s easy for me to list the books I’ve read, far more difficult to list the ones I want to read–a list that would have to be able to expand at each “you have to read this.” I don’t have the Poets & Writers article with me, but one of the lists someone kept included entries like: “Cynthia says to read The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin for its ability to conjure emotions with words.” It would be such fun to keep journal-like entries on why we want to read certain books–snippets from magazines glued to pages.


      • Yes, great idea. I like that thought that books are passed onto us with a reason to read ( with the full knowledge that we may find something else inside!) I’ve just finished the new Murakami, have a friend’s book to read, another Murakami in a pile, a Gur Batya about to arrive in the post. Today, I got John Fowles from the library and John Dos Passos ( for a pleasurable reread of an epic novel). Oh la la, the list goes on…..


  5. I now have a list (thanks to you) of everything I’ve ever read and it’s so fun to look through it and remember where I was when I read each of them. I recently came to that same conclusion about exactly how many books I’ll actually be able to read if I read one per week for the rest of my life. It is NOT ENOUGH! I am getting more and more picky! Add in magazines and blogs and I need more time. 🙂


  6. Cynthia,

    Thanks so much for spreading the word about the Baker’s Dozen, and encouraging this kind of reading reflection in others!

    After taking off in January to attend the Key West Literary Seminar, I am behind on putting out my 2012 Baker’s Dozen…but I’m actually working on it today.



    • Joshua, thanks for leaving a comment here. I really enjoyed your piece in Poets & Writers and look forward to the 2012 Baker’s Dozen. I love books and I love lists–it’s hard to beat a list of books : )


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