Monday, February 20, 2012
To Be Read...Eventually
Pretty much everyone I know has an extensive TBR (To Be Read) list, and this is especially true of my writer friends. I know for a fact that I will never get caught up on my TBR list, because until the day I die there will be books published that I'll want to read. And that's okay. The point is that we keep reading. But there are certain books, for one reason or another, I've had on my TBR list for years.
Being from a small farming community, I grew up working. But my first real official job when I turned 16 was making burgers at McDonald's. Yes, quite glamorous, I know. But hey, you gotta start somewhere. One day I was in the break room and noticed someone had left a copy of Jack Kerouac's DESOLATION ANGELS on the table. I picked it up and read the first few pages, and was struck by the writing - both the style and the words that were written. It was unlike anything I'd ever read. My break ended and I went back to the burgers, but I never forgot that book.
Fast-forward a few years, I was in my early 20's trying to figure out myself and the world and how the two things were supposed to fit together. I ended up reading a ton of Kerouac at that time. ON THE ROAD was and is my favorite of his. That book, combined with John Steinbeck's TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE, sent me off into the unknown: Backpacking in Europe, cross-country road trips and even a summer spent in Alaska. I had the wanderlust for sure. And I started reading DESOLATION ANGELS again. But at some point something must have come up, and I put it down.
A few years ago I picked it up again, fully intent on getting through it, but again one thing or another made me put it down. But it always stayed in the back of my mind. It was always one of those books that I needed to read.
The last few years I've been keeping track of the books I read on Goodreads. I love being able to see what I've read, and I wish something like this had existed my whole life. Anyway, I made a goal in 2011 to read 100 books, a goal which I happily achieved. But this year I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to just go for quantity. One night I was looking at my bookshelf, and DESOLATION ANGELS caught my eye. It was sitting up there with a bookmark I'd gotten in Italy still sticking out of it, marking the place I'd last abandoned it, and the decision was made. 2012 would be the year I'd get some of those eternally TBR books crossed off my list.
This past Saturday, I finally finished DESOLATION ANGELS, about 16 years after I picked it up for the very first time. Although it's no ON THE ROAD, I still really enjoyed it. Kerouac isn't for everybody, but a lot of what he says strikes a chord with me. And the end was a very fitting quote, considering my history with the book:
"A peaceful sorrow at home is the best I'll ever be able to offer the world, in the end, and so I told my Desolation Angels goodbye. A new life for me."
It was pretty cathartic to read those lines. It was almost as if the book and I were finally saying goodbye to each other. There's a new life (and book) waiting for me. As much as I enjoyed reading it, I enjoyed being able to cross it off my list just as much.
As you can see in the picture above of a few of the books on my eternal TBR list, other than James Joyce's ULYSSES, they're not all the most famous or prestigious books. They're just books I've always wanted to read, but for some reason have never gotten around to. I'm still going to read new books as they come out, but I'm also going to try to implement something I learned back at McDonald's all those years ago: FIFO, or First In, First Out. I want to get through those books that have been on my mind's bookshelf for years. There will be plenty to take their place, and I won't have to feel guilty every time I see those books gathering dust.
Am I alone in this? Hopefully I am, because I can't help but wonder a little about how and if my life (or at least approach to life) would have been different if I'd read this and other books years ago. But all I can do is move on and try to get them read. As Kerouac says in my favorite quote from the book, "Shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless and don't be sorry."