Reading Resolutions for 2020

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As I’m sure many of you can attest about your own bookshelves, I have a huge number of volumes on a vast array of topics sitting prettily in carefully organised rows, making me look very erudite indeed, but whenever people come over and say ‘oh my goodness, you have so many books – have you read them all?’ I have to sheepishly admit that about half of them I have never opened. In fact, many of them have been waiting to be opened for upwards of a decade. I love watching TV programmes about hoarders – I experience an immense sense of satisfaction in the transformation from chaos to order – and always feel enormously sorry for the people who have, often through trauma, felt the need to obsessively hold onto objects as an anchor. However, I have come to think of late that perhaps I am not so different – I may not be navigating my way through piles of mouldering newspapers as I try to make it from my bedroom to the bathroom, or eating out of takeaway containers because my kitchen is inaccessible due to piles of unwashed crockery – but I just can’t seem to stop myself from buying more books when I already have hundreds – yes, hundreds! – I haven’t read. My excuse is that I love book shopping, it’s harmless, I have plenty of room for them, and I’ll definitely read them one day – they are stored up waiting for me to be in the right mood, and how often have I come across something interesting somewhere and then remembered with glee that I have a book on that exact topic nestled on a shelf at home? – but despite all these very good reasons, this year, I want to take things in hand. I don’t want to possess things I don’t use or enjoy. So, I am going to read every unread book on my shelves. Fiction and non-fiction. Classic and modern. Adult and children’s. Uplifting and miserable. And to force myself to read every one, I’m going to read them in alphabetical order. No dodging the doorstoppers – when I get to D, I am going to read Bleak House, whether I like it or not.

My caveats to this are that if I get to page 100 and am not enjoying it, I can give up and put the book in my charity shop pile. If I start a book and don’t enjoy it but think it’s just because I’m not in the right mood for that theme or topic, I will allow myself to put it on a ‘come back to’ pile to revisit when I do feel like reading it. Some books do have to be read when you’re in a particular frame of mind, I find, and so I am going to allow myself some leeway for when I need a light read. My aim is to discover what I really have hiding away on my shelves, to broaden my reading and hopefully find new favourites in the process, and to make room by getting rid of the books I decide I don’t want to keep for future acquisitions, as I’m currently at shelf capacity. It’s going to be difficult to not be tempted by new releases, or recommendations from friends and other book bloggers, but I have preempted some of that by unsubscribing from all of the bookshop emails I receive in my inbox. I will still allow myself to go into second hand bookshops, however, because I have decided another caveat will be I am allowed to buy nice old editions of books I’ve already read, or rare finds I’ve been hunting for years, so that I can still indulge in the pleasures of book shopping to some extent. I couldn’t go completely cold turkey!

So, I’m essentially going go be hibernating in my own little cave of books all year, and I’m excited. I’ve already made a start; I’ve read Lynne Reid Banks’ The L Shaped Room, one of Simon‘s favourites (but I didn’t love it, sadly!) and got to the first 100 pages of The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill and decided to give up as I am not enjoying it enough to plough on (it’s a long book). Next up is James Baldwin, followed by Adrian Bell, then Dorothy Canfield, then Willa Cather, then Richmal Crompton – there’s so much to enjoy! I’m also going to be reading at least one non-fiction book per month, as those are the majority of my unread books – I’m excited to finally read all the books I have about Jack the Ripper, train stations, Victorian explorers, and female novelists! So many adventures to have, and I won’t even need to leave the sofa!

38 comments

  1. What a great idea. I few years ago I followed an idea from Dar at https://anexactinglife.com to “Read Down the House”: read books that have been sitting around for too long untouched. I need to do another such challenge. But then recommendations come up on Goodreads and on blogs and in newspapers.

    1. I’ve not come across that blog, Lucinda – I’ll take a look. I know, it’s so difficult because recommendations and temptations are everywhere! But I’m going to make a list of all the books I’m tempted by this year and then next year I can knock myself out by reading whatever I fancy!

  2. I feel your discomfort at the many books issue! I will keep acquiring new books, as I so enjoy the joy of finding new authors and new books, but will try to review some older books as well. As I lead a book group, I am often drawn to choose old favourites as I try to find books that are easy to buy cheaply. Good luck with your project, and I hope you will let us know how you get on! (How many do you think you will read?)

    1. I’m hoping that this year will enable me to move forward in future by balancing old favourites with new without the pressure of so many unread books cluttering the shelves! Thank you. I will keep you updated on progress every month, don’t worry. I normally read about 60 books per year – so I’m hoping at least that many. I’m guessing there will be a far few I don’t finish as well…

  3. Ohh, you are describing my situation! – So far I have not come to such a brave resolution. I wish you an interesting reading year – I imagine it will be very liberating in the end. In the meantime
    we will follow your progress here (if you let us know how things are going) and perhaps gather the strength to follow your example.

  4. I love this idea, Rachel. I think I will do this, too. I’m in the same boat, with hundreds of unread books on my shelves.
    When I get recommendations, I now get the book from the library and only buy it if I love it and want to keep it. If the library doesn’t have it, I add it to my Goodreads ‘Want to read’ and hope that eventually it will cross my path.
    I love charity shops and secondhand book sales, so I won’t give those up. I tell myself it’s a harmless addiction and brings me so much pleasure.
    I love your blog (and Simon’s) and Tea or Books is my favourite podcast. I’ve listened to every episode and always look forward to the next one.

    1. Thanks so much, Gillian. Please do this with me! We can support one another to keep going! Your strategy sounds excellent – and I quite agree, the pleasure of charity shops and book sales is so great I’ll never be able to give it up entirely! You are so lovely – I’m so delighted you enjoy the blog and podcast. It’s such a joy to know that the nonsense I write and say gives people pleasure!

  5. I did the same a few years ago after I moved house a lot in a short space of time. I now read new books via the library and buy hardly anything except for secondhand. My programme of reading all the books I own which I haven’t yet read isn’t going all that well though – ha!

  6. Good plan! I am in the same situation but being at least 30 years older than you, I am convinced I won’t get to all of my unread books! My plan now is to choose books according to different reading challenges, sort of like Simon’s “names project.” This month I am reading a children’s book, next month a book recommended by a friend, etc. It’s an organizing principle anyway and better than spending more time obsessing about how I will ever read all these books than I actually spend reading them! (P.S. Bleak House is wonderful!)

    1. Susan your strategy sounds perfect and leaves lots of room for variety, at least! And perhaps, philosophically, it’s always good to have something left unfinished to look forward to… Thank you for the encouragement on Bleak House – I’m feeling much more hopeful about enjoying the experience now!

  7. Same here – several decades older so husband and I have probably 10,000 books between us. How many have we read? Same percentage as 30 years ago…half! Good luck, I suspect you will make better progress than we did!

  8. I also got to the stage where my bookshelves were full, so I’m trying to read only existing books. If I read of an interesting book I would like, I put it on my book list so I don’t forget about it. There are now several hundreds on it, and I feel so relieved I don’t have to store them. Its also useful at Christmas, when people ask me for a page of my book list when they want to buy me a present. Now I get books I want to read, but have no idea what they will be, so its a nice surprise. Highly recommended.

  9. Reading in alphabethical is a heroic undertaking indeed! I think I wouldn’t be as disciplined and choose the volumes first I’d think I like. Thus leaving certain one’s unread forever, probably.
    My situation is different as I have really limited shelf space. I’m very strict about what I let into my house and regularly give away books I won’t read twice. The one’s that live here are real favourites. I read most of them at least twice or even more often.
    Thanks to you, my collectionn of Persephones grew to a dozen volumes now… I won’t give them away! I got the newest one by Elizabeth von Arnim for christmas and loved it (especially the long walks through London and Bloomsbury). They just never disappoint, it’s amazing.
    Very excited to see how your reading adventure develops, and already looking forward to your end-of-the-year post about it!

    1. Thanks Martina! I like the idea of being a reading hero! 🙂 I really only keep books I genuinely love and will read again. I’m always weeding out the shelves as I only have limited room for books and I hate books not being shelved properly. I’m delighted you’ve got so many treasured Persephones – and I am so looking forward to that Elizabeth von Arnim! It’ll have to wait until I can buy books again, but it’ll be worth it, I’m sure! I will be regularly updating on my progress, so stay tuned!

  10. You have inspired me to do something similar. I love all of my books, even the unread ones which constitute more than half of my collection. Time to make a change! 🙂 Happy New Year!

  11. I admire you so much! These are tremendous goals! I have very, very, very many unread books in my apartment and I am trying to read more of them, but I do not yet want to make the attempt of reading ALL of them. I feel it would really cut into my library reading. 😛

    1. Thanks Jenny! Well as long as you have space for all the books, there’s no pressure! My problem is I’ve run out already…not quite sure how it happened but I need to get rid of some, and the only way to do it is read the ones I have!

  12. Dear Book Snob – I discovered you by clicking randomly on a list of book blogs on Persephone Books and loved the way you write. On your recommendation I read Any Human Heart – I had never heard of William Boyd – and have enjoyed it immensely. Ready to start Pin to the Peepshow. Thank you for blogging. April Babbitt – Massachusetts USA

    1. Hi April – I’m so glad you found me and that you like my blog – thank you so much for your kind words! I’m delighted that you enjoyed Any Human Heart and here’s hoping you’ll love A Pin to See the Peepshow – please come back and tell me how you get on!

  13. I’m trying to read more of the books I own too, although I have a six month old so my reading has slowed down a tad since he arrived. I’m a little geeky and have a spreadsheet of all my books with the ones I have read highlighted green so I can see I have about 200 unread books. I don’t think I could read in alphabetical order as I have 25/30ish Agatha Christies I’ve not read yet and I think if I read them all one after another it would be too much. Do you have a strategy for a similar problem or do you only have one or two unread books by the same author? My only real plan is one Christie and one Persephone a month, otherwise it is free choice; I’m currently reading Whose Body? So I can listen to the latest Tea or Books?

    1. How organised of you to have a spreadsheet! I have never attempted to catalogue my books but maybe I will to celebrate once I’ve read all of them! Yes I have thought about this as I do have quite a lot of unread books by the same author. I think I’m going to just plough through them as I’m interested in being able to compare and contrast the books. I’ll see though – if I get bored of reading the same person I might have to rethink! I hope you’re enjoying Whose Body? – I love it!

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