My 2010 reading list. Or: you are what you eat

Escapologists should impose a degree of discipline over what they consume if they want to live deliberately. Be aware of the nerd maxim, Garbage in, Garbage out.

A couple of people asked about the self-imposed reading list to which I referred in a previous post. For the duration of 2010, I am exclusively reading the titles on a pre-planned list.

I don’t particularly recommend this practice: it’s just an experiment. The rationale behind the experiment, however, is worth imparting here.

The list was a 2010 new year’s resolution. It was a sequel to 2009’s resolution to record everything I read.

It had become clear that I’d spent a year consuming mediocre material, often to honour the recommendations of other people. As someone who values reading, this was an insane situation, needing to be taken by the lapels.

By making a pre-planned list for 2010, I could discipline myself to read exclusively for pleasure and to read a few classics I’d previously not got around to.

It was also a good way of explaining to people why I couldn’t read the books they were keen for me to borrow. Recommendations from friends are seldom without merit, but it’s never good to commit hours required to read a novel out of obligation. It has also been fun to entertain people with this slightly eccentric methodology in the pub.

Being a realist I’d allowed for two deviations from the list by including a couple of empty slots. In practice though, I’ve veered from the list on about six occasions. This is experiment and not a challenge, so I don’t see such deviations as ‘failures’ but as a ‘finding’. So far I’ve read about half of the modest list (which is about right for June) and those few extras. The extra choices evolved pretty organically from the list: mostly other books by a listed author.

I don’t think I’ll run another book list next year, but the experiment has shown me that there is value in disciplined consumption.

As strange as it feels to say this as a former librarian, I also think it’s possible to read too much for the sake of personal titillation, which is why my list is so unambitiously short. Reading novels is still just entertainment and shouldn’t be construed as being somehow ‘higher’ than watching films or surfing the web. I don’t think reading novels is the thin end of the wedge to reading more fibrous material either: if you want to read raw Descartes or Seneca, you don’t need to munch through Dan Brown to get there. Try not to consume more than you produce, lest you become intellectually obese. Be like an earthworm and keep a steady in/out ratio.

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

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