FOR devoted readers, the end of the year is a time of temptation.
Every December, editors of the Books sections of the world’s best newspapers release lists of what they thought were the best titles published during the year.
Now, if they published only one brief list, the temptation these tormentors created would be manageable. That would mean only 10 or 12 titles made familiar.
So, if I decided to head to the bookstore to buy holiday gifts, for example, the risks of seeing a familiar title and buying it on impulse (i.e. “self-gifting”) would be minimal.
Unfortunately, the crafty editors of the Books section I follow issue not one list, but several. In addition to “The 10 Best Books of 2016,” The New York Times also published last month “The Times Critics’Top Books of 2016,” “The Best Photo Books of 2016,”
“The Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016,” and “100 Notable Books of 2016.”
One frigging hundred. And that’s not the full list of their lists. As a result, every time I buy books for some godchildren or favorite persons, there are always familiar covers that catch the light perfectly just as I walk by. The sight of them triggers a kind of greed.
Like a lot of bookworms, I shelter a growing pile of unread books; books I picked up in previous months or years, because I feared that if I walked away, I would soon feel compelled to read that title, yet find on my next visit to the bookstore that someone else had bought it. I know someone who, if a book wasn’t a luxury his budget could allow that week, would hide that book in an out-of-the-way shelf, so no one else would find it.
Sometimes, just browsing is enough. I know avid readers, readers with floor-to-ceiling bookcases sagging with books, who go every few weeks to the bookstores.
Apart from the annual visit during the holidays, I go to the bookstores maybe once a month, just to browse. (Really, just to browse.) One of the best books I read last year, the poet Helen MacDonald’s “H is for Hawk,” beckoned with the black and tan illustration on its cover, of a goshawk with a beady eye. I finished it that week, then bored fellow readers in my life by repeatedly recommending it.
Much later, I realized that the book had made it to the NY Times “10 Best Books of 2015” list. It’s possible that a residual memory from having read that list, in addition to that beautiful cover, was what made me get the book.
For that discovery, it was money well-spent. Unfortunately, years of book-collecting have now filled one wall of the home office, as well as several storage containers.
This year, to de-clutter, I will attempt to give away more books than usual and organize what’s left in the manner taught by the organizing consultant Marie Kondo (in a book, of course). She recommends placing all of one’s books on the floor and holding each one, keeping only those that “spark joy.” This should be interesting.
I am so attached to the books that I suspect the people I love will have to pry some books from my cold, dead hands. If you’ve gone through a similar process, do let me know how you survived.