Book-lust, or, I’m Reading A Book A Day and You Can Too

17 Nov

books

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:

L

Susan Sontag, in varying moods of bookishness.

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

  1. Pick the books for each week a few days before the week starts.
  2. Pick more than seven books, so that you have some leeway.
  3. In general, pick books that are no more than 200 pages in length.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. If you have to stay up to finish a book, break out the coffee and make it happen.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. You can have one day off a week. Try to avoid taking a day off. But if it happens once, its okay.
  10. 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.
  11. 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:

WEEK ONE

week1.1week1.2

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.

WEEK TWO

week2.1week2.2.JPG

True Deceiver by Tova Jansson. Song and Error by Averill CurdyThe 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?

CH

 

17 Responses to “Book-lust, or, I’m Reading A Book A Day and You Can Too”

  1. Fred OnFulton November 18, 2015 at 12:24 am #

    Conner Habib, you continue to amaze me — reading a book a day. Even the idea is mind-boggling — especially in these days when we can be so easily distracted by TV, movies, social media, porn (your making it, my watching it). But, like you, I love books and have waaay more than I can ever hope to read. But I continue to buy books, mostly contemporary fiction and usually recommended by friends, and these books I DO read, but I’m more of a book-a-week person. Good luck in your noble endeavor. I hope your blog entry will encourage others to read more. .

  2. The Sexy Intellectual November 18, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    Great article Conner! Just an FYI, Noam Chomsky is alive and well at 86 and still going strong! I’m sure he’s still reading a book a day too

    • Conner Habib November 19, 2015 at 2:13 am #

      Haha, of course I know he’s still alive, how could I not? He’s in every leftist documentary from 2000-the present.
      Haha
      CH

      • The Sexy Intellectual November 19, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

        I’m glad you’re a fan, and I’m going to try reading a book a day once I finish rereading the song of ice and fire saga.

  3. Mubarak AlMutairi November 18, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    I never went as far as reading a book a day, but I do read a book a month. I also make sure to summarize the book to make sure that I understand its content and that the information sticks around for more than a week.

    I started the “book a month” after graduating from college, and the first bunch were all fiction and now I’m going with non-fiction. If I could do it all over again I would alternate between the two genres since I found myself burning out quickly with fiction and now I’m feeling the same with non-fiction.

    Also I’m hoping to get a job with a non-profit/government translation house (I’m not sure of the proper term in English) so that I can be incentivised to translate some of the books into Arabic.

    • Conner Habib November 19, 2015 at 2:14 am #

      Hey there –
      Awesome. Since you’re only doing a book a month, you must have enough time on your hands to teach me Arabic?
      Ha ha
      CH

  4. Robert David Sullivan November 23, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    I tried this over the summer, when I knew I’d be moving to another city and had to choose hundreds of books to sacrifice. Got me to finally read “Portnoy’s Complaint,” “Death in Venice,” and the biography of Joey Stefano. (I should have leavened the list with more humorous books, but they never sit around unread in my house.) But your guidelines are good. “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.” I know what you mean. But the emptiness in my new place is sending me outside more, so that’s a different and equally effective form of arousal.🙂

  5. timkoch2012 November 25, 2015 at 3:20 am #

    Conner….this is brilliant. Thank you!

    Tim

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  6. Noah Stewart December 2, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    I used to work at a murder mystery bookstore and would routinely read a book a day … but I am naturally a very, very fast reader and I had to keep ahead of my customers, many of whom depended upon me to recommend books to them. I wanted to mention that yes, it is possible to read a book a day, and your reading speed will increase the more you do it. But the trap you may fall into is that reading will cease to be a pleasure and become more of a duty … and I venture to suggest that you may have navigated this abyss once before when you had to find a way of differentiating between professional sex and personal sex.

  7. Chester Kallman December 5, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    Here’s a tip: date a librarian. We’re always reading.

  8. Carine May 4, 2016 at 3:22 pm #

    I just finished grad school (while working full-time) and have a massive pile of long and/or academic books to read but I’m going to give it a try. From the shorter end of my existing bed side pile for this week: Blackass, Barbara the Slut, Florence King’s When Sisterhood Was In Flower, Gay Life Stories, an Algerian novel called 2084, and Toibin’s The South. Thanks for the inspiration, Conner!

    • Conner Habib May 6, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

      Thank you! So great to read about what other people are reading, and so happy to know that I’m inspiring others to get in on this crazy project!

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