The pitfall of doing a project like this is that it is a little bit confining. It’s hard to be as casual about one’s reading when you have such a concrete goal in mind. If I read 100 pages of a novel and I’m just not feeling it, it’s difficult to set it aside as I’d normally do, because I need that book for the tally and I’ve already invested however long it took me to read those 100 pages.
Well, today that’s exactly what I did. I had begun The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, a book that came highly recommended. I gave it 112 pages. Nothing about the book was engaging me in the slightest. Perhaps I don’t respond well to multicultural literature. Perhaps I don’t give a crap about Diego Rivera. Perhaps I found the narrator so utterly featureless that I…well, for whatever reason, the thought of reading the entirety of its 500 pages was just beyond the pale. So I said, to heck with it. I’ve got a whole stack of books here I’m dying to read, why should I waste my reading time on a book I’m not enjoying?
It helped that after a very productive week in which I read two different books in one evening each, plus I have another one 2/3 read that I could have finished in a few hours, I’m ahead of the game. I’m up to 35 books read and I’m ahead of schedule, so I felt I could afford the time I wasted on The Lacuna to be nonproductive. Sorry, Barbara. Not this time.
I’m also eyeballing the Philip Roth aspect of my 2011 book project. While I am doing very well for my 100 book goal, I’m a tad behind in my Roth goal. I’m only on my 7th of his books, roughly 1/4 of the way through his 29-book output, so unless I step it way up, I won’t make it.
My project has always been twofold: to read 100 books in 2011, and to read every book Roth ever wrote. I’m considering divorcing those two goals. I will still read 100 books this year and I will still read every book of Roth’s in order, but perhaps I don’t need to read all Roth’s books in 2011. I could stretch that aspect of the project into next year as well. It would give me more longevity on the name of this blog, that’s for sure!
So since my rediscovery of the marvelous place that is the library, suddenly I’ve introduced a new element into my reading schedule: time pressure. Gotta finish the book before it’s due! Of course I can renew any book with one mouse click thanks to the Columbus Metropolitan Library system’s fabulous online user account interface, but still.
And I have some pressure to hit 25 books read by Friday. I’m close enough to finishing Bonfire of the Vanities that I feel like I want to push hard and get it done. The Kindle for PC app actually includes page counts (what a novelty!) so I now know that I’m on page 566 of 688. That’s still kind of a long way to go.
I also now have two probably fast-reading YA titles to choose from, Incarceron and Will Grayson Will Grayson. So should I work on Bonfire and then one of those, or go ahead and start The Passage, which I’m really looking forward to but which is THICK?
I really want Bonfire finally cleared off my list. That’s a long-ass book and I will really feel like I’ve accomplished something when I finish it, and I have tomorrow night free to read it. That plus pick-a-YA-book will put me up to 25 books read.
And there will be much rejoicing.
Since I wrote about my one-fifth-done status report not much has changed, but I’m feeling good about my progress.
On April 1st, the year will be one-quarter over. To be on track I’ll need to have 25 books read. I think I might make it. I just knocked off #20 and #21 in quick succession. Tonight at the library I got a compilation volume of Roth novels that includes the next two I must read, Our Gang and The Breast, and I was astonished to observe that the two of them together total 140 pages. And I started Our Gang and it is amazingly awesome. I think I’ll burn through those two with quickness.
Plus I am now almost 60% finished with Bonfire of the Vanities. You can always tell a Kindle user because they know what percent they’ve read but not what page they’re on, heh. The reading speed of that book is picking up a great deal as the plot really kicks into high gear. After that I picked up another quick one, Ian McEwan’s short little novel On Cheshil Beach. If I can finish those four tomes by April 1st I will be right up the middle.
At the library I also picked up Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a book I’ve wanted to read and which has come recommended. It’s long. But if I can make it to 25 books by April 1st, I’ll feel better about throwing in a doorstop of a volume.
I’m coming up against a downside to this project, though. I’m diving in to some research for a book project I’m considering. I doubt I’ll be reading complete books for it, more like skimming and note-taking…the problem is I’m going to resent any time I spend reading that won’t get applied to The Project.
Oh well. I need better time management. Less Facebook time!
Yeah, that’ll happen.
So now that I’ve crossed the 20% line on my progress it’s a good time to reflect.
To be on track to complete my project, I would need to have read 20 books by the 73rd day of the year, which is one/fifth of the way through the year. The 73rd day of the year is March 14th. So I’m about a week off my pace. But I do have a book half done right now.
The problem is the Roth books. To keep pace with those I’d have to have read eight of them so far and I’ve only read four. To be fair one of them was really long. And several of the upcoming ones are super short. But clearly I need to increase my Roth saturation level. Heh.
I picked Roth for this project because I like his books, but let’s get real…it’s not exactly light reading. I’m not sure I’d choose to read all these Roth books if I weren’t doing this project. So reading those is sometimes a second choice when there are fun interesting things to read about forensic science and Titanic research and skepticism and hikers who cut off their arms. But I’m trying to be literary here, dammit. And so I shall.
I love shit like this. I’m a skeptic and a devotee of rationalism and humanist reasoning so I love reading books that deconstruct society’s seeming obsession with believing in ridiculous things. The piece de resistance of this genre is Carl Sagan’s seminal work The Demon-Haunted World, which I’ve read so it won’t be among the Roth Project volumes, but you should totally read it.
Gilovich is a social scientist, and this book certainly reflects that. It’s far more academic and dry than I was expecting, having more recently read more lay-friendly books such as Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy. I’m not precisely a layperson (I’m a scientist by trade myself) but I’m not a social scientist. It wasn’t difficult to read, just not quite as accessible as some books on the same subject have been.
Still, I came away from it with a deeper understanding of how easy it is to believe things that aren’t true, and why we insist on doing it, and how it comes about. One of the take-home lessons that’ll really stay with me is the pervasiveness of phenomenon that seem inexplicable but which are in fact explained by regression to the mean, an extremely useful concept that explains a wide variety of real-life experiences from the second-book curse to the Sports Illustrated jinx to the frustrating belief in quack remedies.
I recommend it if you’re interested in the subject, but the casual reader would do better with Sagan’s book, which ought to be required reading for anyone who’s human.
How many books do you read at once?
Having a Kindle makes multiple in-progress volumes super simple. The device keeps track of where I am. I have an “In Progress” folder. I can so easily swap between them. But I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off reading everything sequentially, finishing one book before beginning another, rather than…well, I don’t know what you’d call it. Simultaneously, I suppose.
If I’m going to make my goal, I have to average 2-3 books a week. This is a daunting task to be sure. But if I have four or five books at once, it might take me two to three weeks to finish them, but then I’d finish a whole slew of them at once.
Right now I’m about halfway through When She Was Good, the third Roth book. This book is a bit of a get-through, because the fourth book is Portnoy’s Complaint, which a) I have already read once and b) I know is a fast read and c) is awesome. When She Was Good isn’t long, but so far it isn’t particularly compelling.
I’m also reading How We Know What Isn’t So, which is super informative but rather more dry and academic than I thought it would be. I’m about halfway through that. Bonfire of the Vanities is about 1/4 done and is going fairly quickly. But then this weekend after seeing “127 Hours” (great movie) I would like to read Aron Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place (what editor let him use that title, I have to wonder) so I went ahead and started that one. So that’s four in progress.
Part of my problem is that I want different books for different moods. I want pop science or skepticism or a nice informative Mary Roach title for my workday lunchtime/coffee breaks. I want compelling literary fiction for evenings. I want fast YA titles or contemporary fiction for weekends.
I guess there’s no harm in multiple input streams. I just wish I could finish off some of these titles faster. The year seems to be whizzing by. At this rate I’m never going to make it.
Last week, when I began reading Bonfire of the Vanities, I thought to myself, gosh, I’ve never read a Tom Wolfe book. This seemed a glaring omission in my literary life seeing as Wolfe is something of a legendary figure, but when I looked into the matter more closely, Wolfe hasn’t written all that many novels. In fact, Bonfire was his first, published in 1987, and he didn’t write another until 1998’s A Man in Full. He’s written more since, but the bulk of his literary notoriety rested on the volumes he wrote as a scion of the New Journalism, most famously The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff.
I’m reading Bonfire because I want to, and also because I’m interested in reading The Devil’s Candy, which is an account of how the much-anticipated film version of the book went totally off the rails and wound up as one of the most reviled and failed book adaptations ever put to screen. I’m a sucker for books about the ins and outs of moviemaking, given that I’m such a film junkie.
Today I knocked off a good chunk of Bonfire while sitting at the Red Cross with a needle in my arm, donating platelets. Wolfe’s writing is stylized and somewhat self-aggrandizing but it moves right along, and his characters are vivid. I’m not going to have trouble finishing this one.