This week’s reading:
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
I read these books every year, as a birthday gift to myself. I started doing this back when I was nine years old, and first got my hands on a copy of Lord of the Rings. I remember it belonged to my then-babysitter, who lent me the series. Each book was a different color (I think Fellowship was red) and I read them until they fell apart. I had to buy my babysitter a new copy! Which, in a way, made it among the first books I ever bought for myself - even if the copies I “bought” had been seriously screwed up by my enthusiastic reading and re-reading.
At the time, reading and re-reading Lord of the Rings was just part of how I lived. I never had enough books - never, never, never, even when I was allowed to raid my dad’s bookshelves. I just read too fast, too passionately and too much! So every year for my birthday, I promised myself a wonderful treat. I would read a book that I knew, no matter how many times I read it, could transport me into a different world.
Now, of course, I have all the books I could possibly want. At some level, I think I’m continuing the tradition for the sake of tradition. It’s not as though I don’t enjoy it! I find something wonderful and new in the books each time. But I don’t need to read Lord of the Rings every year, or save it for my birthday. I just like the notion of having a thread that reaches back to nine-year-old me, and this huge amount of texture and richness to the history of my reading life.
Also: someone mentioned that I read in a very goal-oriented way because I keep a list like this one. Despite my list-making, this isn’t the case!! I started blogging my books because I was freaking out about a problem I was having. I read so much that I couldn’t easily retrieve memories of what I’d read. I could tell you all about a book if you gave me the title, but if you asked me what I read last month? I couldn’t give you a single name, most of the time. My brain doesn’t work well with that kind of question at the best of times, and with a huge tide of reading material in my life, it was pretty much overwhelmed.
So it’s not that I read because I have some kind of list or goal - though it does occasionally amuse me to make jokes as if that were the case. It’s exactly the opposite. I want to be able to savor and remember what I read, but my book-retrieval memory only works from title to content, not from time-period to content or title. In service of better and more pleasurable reading, I keep this list. But the real goal is the leap of the heart when I see a title I loved. If it interfered with my ability to completely leave the world when I’m reading, I’d ditch my accounting in a second.
Since I started this project, I’ve also wondered if this project can serve a second purpose. I’m trying to pare down my book collection, which, when you’re me, is a hugely intimidating task. I hate letting go of books, precisely because I need to see the book, or at the very least hear the title, in order to re-experience the joy of reading. I’ve been very cautiously exploring whether a list like this one can serve the purpose that my vast library does, at least for the books I loved the least. So far the verdict is a cautious maybe.
Happy reading in 2008!