One night last month, still nursing a numb right ear, I decided to nestle into bed early and watch a movie on my laptop. After scrolling through the choices on Amazon's instant video line-up, I decided on The Reader. The trailer hinted that it would be a compelling story and when I saw that Kate Winslett won an Oscar (2009) for her performance, I clicked "watch now".
I loved the cinematography, the story, and every expression Kate Winslett's face offered. As involved as I was in the story though, I could not stop wondering what my life would be like, had I never learned to read. What would I be willing to risk, do, or lose, in order to keep my lack of literacy a secret?
A week or two later, The Book Thief opened in town and this powerful film left me wondering what would happen if my reading choices were limited or non-existent. I know, these are bizarre thoughts, but I gave birth to them. Equally eccentric, when several similar events occur, I take it as a signal. I decided that it was time for me to get back into the habit of reading in a civilized manner.
Several years ago, I came upon Mark Forster's "How to Finish Reading All the Books You Start" and was amused by his confession:
...I have bookshelves full of books with bookmarks sticking up half way through them. Even if I do get one of these books out of the bookshelf, I will have to start reading it again from the beginning because it's been so long since I looked at it that I've forgotten what I've already read.
He seemed to be describing my book collection as well. Like Forster, I wanted to read all of my books but the new book on the block always cuts in line. His suggestion of limiting your current reading stack to five books, fit well with my multi-book reading habit. Forster reads the top book and when he's done with a session (the amount of time is unspecified), the book goes to the bottom of the pile. He allows only five books at a time.
As soon as the novelty of this idea wore off, I was back into my old habits. I've only been interested in non-fiction so there are some books that I breeze through in a day or a week. More consistent is my habit of acquiring books. But after watching those two movies, the act of reading just sounds so…sensual to me. So I've tweaked Forster's rules a bit and this is what I've been doing:
- I selected 5 books to complete within a 12 week span. That's a minimum and I just do better with deadlines.
- I define a reading session as One Day; the book on top is what I stick to for 24 hours.
- I'm free to read (and purchase) any other book I want as long as I finish my chosen 5.
- I read hardcovers, paperbacks and a Kindle so my formal "stack" consists of five 3X5 index cards with the book title and a few notes scribbled on it. The card stack is always in order, the books could be all over the house.
- Challenge: one of the five books must be fiction.
So far, I'm happy with the system. There's a rhythm to my reading and the solid beat reminds me of an approaching deadline. Books and reading are appetites that I want to feed, mindfully. I doubt that I will ever read The Reader or The Book Thief but I will always appreciate them for bringing some order and balance back to my love of books.