I’ve been thinking about abundance this week thanks to the Lenten video series I signed up for. And among other things, I’ve been pondering how abundance features–or more often doesn’t–in my reading life.
Last year for Lent, I gave up book-buying, and that experience changed my habits long after Easter arrived (which, really, is part of the point of a Lenten discipline). I’m less likely to pick up books that only mildly interest me just because they’re really cheap; I try not to buy the next book in a series before I’ve read the last (or first!) one; I don’t browse Harlequin’s website every month determined to pick up a few books (OMG, I’m the reason for their declining revenues!); I rely more on the library. Except for that last one, these changes have had a beneficial effect on my TBR. It’s not shrinking, but it’s growing more slowly.
And that, rather than spending less money, was really my goal. Because the abundance of books in my TBR doesn’t really give me a feeling of abundance–of richness, plenty. It makes me anxious. Buying a lot of books (as I did last week in a Mardi Gras binge with a 90% off Kobo coupon) has a similar effect. At first I feel the joy of abundance: all these great books to read! But as I wrestle with getting them downloaded onto my reader, that feeling ebbs away. Instead I think, Will I actually read these? Why did I buy these, when I already have so much else to read? (I had something of the same feeling about all the great mystery recommendations I got: where do I even start? More or less at random, I decided, with some things I could get quickly from the library).
Most of my reader friends know that the effect of too many books TBR can be the feeling that we have “nothing to read.” How do we choose one among so many? Sometimes it’s easier just to do something else. Confronted with the excess of my TBR, I often have a feeling not of abundance, but of scarcity: I don’t have enough time for all these books.
A really long book can create that same feeling of scarcity: This will take me weeks to read! Think of all the other books I won’t be able to read in that time! I no longer have the attention span for books that long. Nevertheless, I signed on for Sunita’s March Big Fat Book Readalong and pulled Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch from my TBR. (I’d already started listening to Middlemarch).
I got off to a slow start when a cold made my energy and attention for reading even scarcer than usual this week. But at the end of the week I finally got stuck in, and I was utterly engrossed by the first two chapters. From outside, the daunting size of a big book can focus me on the scarcity of my time and attention; once inside, though, sucked into its pages, I have a feeling of abundance. I am happy to live in the richly drawn world Tartt has created for the rest of the month, if that’s what it takes. I’m glad there’s so much more of it to enjoy.
I’ve been thinking about how to create more of this feeling of abundance in my reading, less anxiety about just how much I have to read. It helps that my copy of The Goldfinch is digital, so I’m less aware of its size. I try not to keep checking what percentage of the book I’m at. (I can see how many pages of each chapter I have left as I read, but not the size of the whole book–and even that page count is artificial, as it depends on the font size I set. I actually wish I could turn this feature off and stop measuring my reading altogether). Reading a library book on an iPad app, I turned off my wireless so I’d be less tempted to pop over to check Twitter/e-mail/that review of a new book that sounded interesting/etc. etc.
Because while I might not have abundant time to read, I do have enough, if I’d just make that time. Often I spend a lot of what could be my book-reading time reading about books I’m not reading, looking for more books to read in some amorphous future, requesting and wish-listing books at the library. My reading goal for Lent, then, is to unplug more from the signals that focus me on scarcity and spend that time immersed in the abundant pleasure between the covers of a really good book.