Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 2013 Shelf-Sitter Challenge Wraps Up

Regular readers (hi, Sharon!) will recall that the Shelf-Sitter Challenge originated because I had twenty-five books on my shelves that I had never read. My goal was to read them all-- or, at the very least, read enough to reject them. Since my usual yearly reading goal is 40 books, I figured I had plenty of wiggle room to get the shelf-sitters out of the way. If I wanted to read anything off-challenge, I had to take it out of the library-- no buying more books (except book club books) until I'd read all the ones I already owned.

So, how'd it go?

The bad news: despite reading 70(!) books this year (I'll post the full list tomorrow), I did not complete the challenge and still have seven books unread on my shelves that were there on January 1st.

I also must shamefacedly confess that I had a little book-buying slip a few months back. I took some books to the used bookstore, and like an idiot went looking in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I was like, "Well, the only things I'd consider buying are the Samaria novels I don't already own, and they never have any Sharon Shinn..." and lo and behold, there were the three books I was missing, for $3 apiece. I had a moment of weakness.

The good news: I read/rejected 17.5 of the challenge books (I'm halfway through book 18, which is Cryptonomicon, a mammoth tome by genius/sadist Neal Stephenson), some of which had been making me feel like a slacker for years. I finished eight of the books (and will finish Cryptonomicon-- it is awesome), and chose not to finish nine of them.

I also learned two valuable reading lessons this year:

1) I slog through way too many books that are a waste of my time.
If a book isn't completely terribly written and/or personally offensive to me, I feel weirdly obligated to keep reading it. Ditto reading later books of a trilogy or series even if I've lost interest in it. This challenge has made me much more discerning; if I'm not invested after reading 20% of the book, I can put it aside and move on to the next thing. There are too many amazing books out there to spend my time on stories I feel meh about.

2) I buy a lot of books that I should be taking out of the library.
I was a hugely insatiable reader as a kid, but for some reason my parents never brought me to the library. My father had this whole "books don't count as buying you something" philosophy-- he would take me to a bookstore and let me pick out literally as much as I wanted. As a result, I developed an acquisitive attitude toward books, which is odd since in every other area I am pretty non-materialistic and don't get attached to things, or care much about the quantity or quality of the stuff I do have. But it can be physically painful to keep the books to a reasonable number (where reasonable = <1,000). I've already gotten in the habit of taking The Son's books out of the library, but this year I took a LOT of books out for myself that I would have bought if I hadn't imposed the buying limit on myself. I've discovered that there are only a few instances in which I truly want to own the book: 1) the book is a reference book that I believe I'll use for many years; 2) the book is by one of the 4-5 authors whose work I "collect"; or, 3) the book is part of a trilogy or series I am actively engaged in and already own all the previous books of.

Where do I go from here?

I've decided to keep myself to no more than ten shelf-sitters. Including the challenge books I didn't read, the illicitly-purchased Shinn books, and the books I got for Christmas, I currently have 15 shelf-sitters, which means I need to read at least 5 of these books before I can buy myself anything else (no more browsing in the used book store!). But with my embarrassingly late-in-life library revelation, it could be quite a while before I feel the need to buy a book!

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