Book-lust used to plague me, because I didn’t know how to love it.
For years (almost two decades, now), I’ve had a dream of reading a book a day. Someone told me that Susan Sontag read a book a day (and later, I heard that Noam Chomsky did the same). I have no idea if that’s actually true, but the myth was almost overpowering. If she could read that much and write as much as she did and think as deeply as she did and direct plays, give talks, etc etc. Surely, I thought, it must be possible.
I’m sure the original idea was that reading a book a day would make me more like her. As time passed, I realized that wasn’t necessarily a desirable goal, given some of the less pleasant contours of her life. But her notion of living a serious life remained. I wanted to read a book a day, not to collect books, but to equal the commitment and artistry that was found in them.
But you know how the story goes:
I bought books and books thinking I’d read them, and they stacked up around me. Soon I had all those words waiting for me to live up to my promise. It started to feel like I was buying books to accuse myself of not reading them. That’s not necessarily an unpleasant feeling. Going to bookstores (including the one I worked at for seven years), the pursuit of books, was a pleasure in and of itself. Bringing them home, having their colored spines show up on the shelf, feeling the promise, it was all good. It kept me in a constant state of arousal.
But the pursuit was a single pleasure, seeking a complimentary partner in reading that equaled it. I didn’t just want the books around me, I wanted them in me.
Instead of books, I carried the urge to read more of them in me for years. I enacted it too slowly. I’d read a book every two weeks, or, at best one or two a week. What would happen if, instead of lengthy considerations which took second stage to the rest of life, I immersed myself in constant conversation with an array of voices? What would happen to my thoughts if they were always active with style and challenge and whatever else was beautiful (or terrible, for that matter)?
Anyway, this is a longwinded introduction to a project I embarked on, of reading a book a day. I’m in week three.
If you’ve longed to do it, here’s how I’m pulling it off. I don’t know that these guidelines would work for you, but I think pieces of my plan might be helpful.
How To Read A Book A Day: Guidelines to Myself
- Pick the books for each week a few days before the week starts.
- Pick more than seven books, so that you have some leeway.
- In general, pick books that are no more than 200 pages in length.
- Have some quickly-read books on hand: Plays, poetry, very short books. Finally in desperate cases, books that you had previously started, approached the end of, but never finished
- If you want to read a longer book, or if you start a book and it appears that you won’t finish it before the end of the day, have one of the shorter books on hand. That way, you can read the part of the longer book and finish the shorter book. Then finish the longer or not-finished book on the following day.
- If you have to stay up to finish a book, break out the coffee and make it happen.
- Tell your loved ones. Ask them if they’d like to hang out somewhere and read with you. Or, if you really want to involve them (and they want to be involved!), read plays or poetry or short stories out loud with them.
- Understand that in the first few weeks, it’s going to take some time to adjust. That means you might fuck up your work schedule a bit, you might disappoint a few people with plans, etc. That should clear up as you get used to it.
- You can have one day off a week. Try to avoid taking a day off. But if it happens once, its okay.
- Don’t get caught up in whether or not this is a good or bad way to read books. You’ve done it the other way – slowly – for your entire life. You’re doing something new now.
- Go for at least a month, then check in with yourself.
Anyway, all that said, I’m in Week Three after having adhered to my guidelines for the first two weeks.
Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far:
Intimacies by Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips. In Praise of Love by Alain Badiou. How I Became A Nun by César Aira. Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley. The Joy of Revolution by Ken Knabb. Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz. Blue Yodel by Ansel Elkins.
True Deceiver by Tova Jansson. Song and Error by Averill Curdy. The Beach Beneath the Street by Mackenzie Wark. The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjöberg. Variations on the Body by MIchel Serres. Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan. (missed one day)
I’ve got a lot to say about each book and also, about all the books and what it feels like to have them flow in and out of each other. But that will come out in my writing organically, I’m sure.
But one note here: Not only has the experience been tremendously energizing and enlivening to my thoughts, but I also experience the lack of anxiety. The urge to read a book a day is gone, and in its place is space and time. It might seem funny that spending hours every day reading should give me more time, but I feel the relief of a certain kind of pressure. Lust, in other words, has become, through following it faithfully, its virtuous self: chastity. Experience feels purified.
Okay. So. Let me know: Have you ever tried this? If so, what are your methods of going at it? If not, and you long to, what can you do to make it happen? What will you read?