3,000 BOOKS: (HALF) A LIFE-TIME OF READING

(Back to writing, a bit more relaxed after a well-deserved holiday… spent ‘doing a Wordsworth,’ that is, enjoying the beauties of the mountains, those of the Pyrenees).

Today’s topic is keeping track of reading –here we go.

I started keeping a record of the books I read, out of my own initiative, back in 1980 when I started my secondary school education, aged 14. I used a small spiral-bound notebook, which I still keep, in pretty blue paper (no pretentious Moleskines for me). This lasted me until 1994, when I moved the list onto my computer.

I call this list my ‘reading diary’ because I follow a chronological order but it is simply a list, written now in an impractical series of Word files, with a basic rating system (maximum 4 stars) which I started using also in 1994. Last year I opened a GoodReads account but I never use it (though as you know I read plenty of Amazon users’ reviews).

Now and then I wonder what anyone would make of my life looking at this list, particularly because I don’t keep a personal diary, or journal (this blog comes closest). I also wonder what researchers would do if they came across something similar for, say, Charles Dickens.

What did I want the list for? Obviously, to remember what I read. I was already a voracious reader and knew that sooner or later I would be unable to recall all the books I read. Not that the plan works that well, though, for the list often throws up books I seem to have read but have completely forgotten –quite spectacularly, it turns out I had already read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1992, but I was absolutely sure I never had when I read it this year (without first checking the list…).

Every January, when I start the corresponding yearly list, I have a quick look, see what I’ve been up to the year before. I also keep, by the way, a second list organised by nation and author for fiction, drama, poetry, etc, and by topic for essays. This is a pain in the neck to update but that has proven quite useful when, for instance, programming my future SF subject, as I know exactly which SF authors I’ve read throughout my life so far. And I couldn’t have gone through my doctoral dissertation, either, without my reading list.

Although I set myself some rules, I keep on breaking them which is why my list is such an imprecise record of all my reading. It only includes complete volumes, yet in some cases (plays, for instance) they number fewer pages than I’ve read in volumes I have abandoned half-way through (and that remain unrecorded). Then, sometimes I count re-readings, sometimes I forget. I’m never sure what to do about comics and graphic novels, either. The many articles I read every year go unrecorded, which I often regret for research reasons, but, then, a list of all I read might seem a symptom of some mental disorder rather than a useful memory enhancement tool. And, um, I have been unable to recall more or less reliably what I read before the age of 14.

Anyway, before I took my holidays, I realised that I would soon reach book 3,000. That’s fun, I thought, let’s see which of the many books I’m planning to read this summer becomes volume 3,000. I didn’t want the number to be meaningful, as the list, all considered, is quite inconsistent. Yet, this was not to be. To my amusement, when I updated the list after my holiday break, it just fell short of book 3,000 (book 2,999 was Lois MacMaster Bujold’s fantasy novel The Curse of Chalion, which would have satisfied me enough as book 3,000). Oh my… meaningful it must be, then.

After a longish absence, I visited my beautiful local library (Jaume Fuster at Plaça Lesseps) not really planning to borrow anything, just keeping my husband company as he searched for comics. Yet, book 3,000 came to me (I swear!), as it had to happen: it is Isaías Lafuente’s non-academic essay Agrupémonos todas: La lucha de las españolas por la igualdad (2004). Never heard of it? No wonder, it’s out of print –what a shame. But I loved the book and I totally love it that my volume 3,000 is a feminist book written by a man, teaching me plenty I didn’t know about women in Spain. (More about this in the following post).

I recently saw a BBC documentary on the impact of the social networks in our lives. A nine-year-old boy voiced his learned opinion that life before Facebook (what was he doing using Facebook??) was really boring… people had to read books! It would be idiotic to claim that reading and using social networks is incompatible, so I won’t embarrass myself. I’m just sorry this boy won’t enjoy the company the 3,000 volumes (better ‘friends’ than often Facebook ‘friends’ are) have kept me so far.

By the way, I don’t care and I don’t mind whether 3,000 are a lot of volumes, average for a university lecturer, or pitifully few. I’m not out to break records, whether absolute or personal. Actually, I find that the number has freed me from having to read a minimum a year, as I did when I was a student. I have no idea how many more I’ll be able to add and calling this list ‘half a life-time of reading’ may be not only overoptimistic but downright silly, who knows whether I’ll reach 96…

Just one thing: if you have children who read, start that list for them. They’ll be thankful when they grow up and start managing it themselves.

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