Accelerating to the end of the year, and the stack of books to read has grown even before I finish other books in the stack. And so it goes. There’s a lot to be said for focus, and reading one book to the end before beginning another. It’s like being on the highway alone, zipping along with nothing to distract you until you reach your destination. Lovely. And some books do that for me – I’m so captured by them that I drop everything else to devour it to the last page, getting there and wishing the journey had been a bit longer. But other books, even compelling reads, take a different path. My current stack of books is like rush hour traffic on that highway, moving a bit more slowly and with a lot of company. Worse, there’s a merge coming up as a lane is dropped. Such is the reality of reading during the holidays. So much to do, and you want to finish reading these books too? Ha!
This isn’t an endorsement of multi-tasking. In fact, I love nothing more than being completely focused on a given task at hand, whether that’s reading, writing, a project for work or anything really. The trouble starts when you say yes to too many things at once. With reading, sometimes a book reaches a challenging place in the plot or tackles subject matter you’d rather not read about at that moment. You glance at a book you’ve been putting off, flip to the place marker and resume reading something else. Or you just received that book you ordered that you’ve been excited about and crack it open to read the introduction… and now you’ve got another car on the highway. Active participation in the Great Conversation makes us all better people, but if too many people are talking at once what can you really listen to?
I did a survey of the stack today, and I’m within sniffing distance of finishing five books. I silently promised myself that I’d finish two of them this weekend, and all of them this year. That stack of books waiting to merge onto the highway? They’ll have to wait their turn. Indulge in new fiction? Not until I get through this non-fiction that’s been lumbering along for a couple of months. It’s all just habits and routine and prioritization. Chip away at this for a bit, switch to that when you need to, but keep moving forward. The rules of the road prevent chaos; a bit of discipline goes a long way.
It’s not just adding books of course, but all the other things we pile on. Writing, exercise, work, gardening, sports, family and travel all act as lane closures on the reading highway. So be it: Life is more than reading the work of others. Sure, the highway might be a little slower, but we should still get there.