The challenge: working with (and wanting – oh, and reading) what you’ve got

Even if one doesn’t go on record and “officially” make New Year’s resolutions, there’s something about the turn of the calendar that seems to prompt a round of “out with the old, and in with the new.” Or at least the “out with the old” part…some of it, anyway. It can help you find new ways of looking at what you have left.

Tall Paul and I spent most of the first weekend in January cleaning, reorganizing, and sorting stuff around our house. I’d spent much of New Year’s week working on my book-cataloging project, and it had prompted the removal of dozens of books from my shelves (although they’re still part of my historical online libraries). Most of the departed were books I had read once and didn’t expect to re-read, but quite a lot were books that I’d held onto for such a long time without reading that I had to question whether I ever would, and had to admit that signs pointed to “no,” as the Magic 8 Ball might say. We also cleared a lot of unworn clothes and unused household items from our closets and storage unit, and took two carloads of stuff to Goodwill in addition to the trunk full of books that were donated to the library.

There’s something liberating about looking around and seeing less stuff. If you can hold on to that sense of freedom and space, and not quickly give in to the urge to replace it with other, newer stuff, that’s even more empowering. Susan Wagner has a post on BlogHer talking about “shopping fasts,” or committing to giving up non-essential purchases for some stated period of time. She did this back herself in the fall of 2007, and inspired me at the time to do a clothing purge and experiment with the idea of “shopping in (my) closet.” I can’t say I’ve bought no new clothes in the past few months – I haven’t bought any shoes, at least! – but I’ve done fairly well at limiting my purchases to true bargains; that is, things I know I will wear often, based on their style, color, and how well they’ll work with clothes I already have, and that I found at a really good price. Sometimes it takes a small infusion of “new” to freshen my perspective and help me do a better job of working with what I have. Truthfully, I know that it’s more a matter of “nothing I want to wear” than really having “nothing to wear,” and there really is plenty of good material – literally and figuratively – in my wardrobe.

I’ve actually had some experience with the “shopping fast” concept. Clothing and books have been my primary shopping indulgences for many years. For several years now, I have tried giving up both for Lent; even though my Catholicism is pretty much in remission these days, I’ve always thought that the season of sacrifice was a good idea and still try to observe it. However, I have been known to take advantage of the “Sunday loophole” my mom told me about (do the math – the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter really do not count the Sundays), and some years I haven’t held out very well.

My book-buying habit was certainly confirmed during my cataloging project, which placed over 125 books in the “to-be-read” category (after removing the “not-to-be-read-after-all” ones). I think I’ve mentioned that my bookstore habit is fueled in part by a fear of running out of things to read one day, but I think that may not be much of a problem after all. However, getting through all of those TBR’s may turn out to be a bigger challenge than I would have thought, now that I know how much TBR there really is in my collection.

I’ve said before that I haven’t partaken in reading challenges and don’t expect to start, but I do try to keep up with what’s out there challenge-wise, just in case. BlogHer books contributing editor Sassymonkey has a great roundup of reading challenges that span 2008. The one that jumped out at me, for obvious reasons, was the TBR Challenge. It’s too late to become an official participant in the challenge now, but the rules are simple: Read 12 books – one per month – that have been in your TBR collection for at least six months, from a list that you finalized by December 31, 2007. Oops, I guess I missed the deadline…but I don’t see any reason I can’t go browsing through my own bookshelves and set this challenge for myself anyway. A few of these books moved here from Memphis with me, so they’ve been waiting their turns for a long time. Just like in my closet, I have plenty to work with, so why not work with what I have? On that note, here are the TBR books I will commit to reading in 2008, one per month and not necessarily in the order listed here:

The Giant’s House
, Elizabeth McCracken
Naked, David Sedaris
Evensong, Gail Godwin
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris
Empire Falls, Richard Russo
Sunday’s Silence, Gina B. Nahai
Coyote Blue, Christopher Moore
So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, Sara Nelson (this will be my first – appropriate, don’t you think?)
The Ride of Our Lives: Roadside Lessons of an American Family, Mike Leonard (to be read before our three-generation road trip to Yellowstone in June)
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
Sammy’s Hill, Kristin Gore
Eleanor Rushing, Patty Friedmann

I think maybe the same principle applies to working with what I have in my closet and my bookcases; a little dose of “new” – a new recordkeeping setup, in the case of the books – can give a fresh perspective on the “old.” And like the song says – after a while, everything old is new again.

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6 comments

  1. I suggest that you read NAKED in bits and pieces, while you’re reading other books. As with most humor collections, individual small doses are far more rewarding than trying to take in the whole thing at once.

    I used italics and all caps for the book title so as to avoid any misunderstanding about my suggestion. 😉

  2. Karen – Good suggestion, and I’ll keep it in mind. I’m usually a one-book-at-a-time girl, but books like this, without a through narrative, I can manage concurrently with reading something else. 🙂

  3. This is a worthy challenge to take on. 🙂 Most of my challenges end up being TBR challenges in their own right, just with different overall themes.

    I loved Empire Falls. I hope you will too. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books are fun. Not really mysteries, but as long as that’s not what you go in expecting, you might like them. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie based on the first book. I hope it turns out well.

    I’ve also read Sara Nelson’s book and enjoyed it. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I learned a lot about book selling that I hadn’t known before.

    Happy reading!

  4. Literary Feline – Thanks for the encouragement- coming from a reading-challenge veteran like you, it means a lot! Since you have an entire TBR room, I don’t doubt that most of your challenges have a TBR component. 🙂

    I knew that the Ladies’ Detective Agency weren’t really mysteries, and I think that’s part of what interested me. I really don’t know what’s taken me so long to get around to reading some of these…we’ll see how it goes!

  5. Pam – Since you and LF are both so positive about it, I’m thinking Empire Falls should be somewhere toward the front of the challenge queue. Of course, I’ll eventually let you know what I think of it, right here!