Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shelf Space: Struggling to Read what you Bought

On Friday, I finished reading a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates and as soon as I was done, I eagerly approached my bookshelf to take a look at what unread books were sitting there waiting for attention. After about fifteen minutes of internal debate, and another five of discussion with my roommate, I came to choose Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys which has been on my shelf for about two years. Gaiman's novel won out over a stack of another eighteen novels and short story collections. Despite the large number of books I had to choose from, Gaiman was simply a best available choice-- the books I really want to read at the moment are no where near by bookshelf. 

The reasons for that are varied, mostly because I have too many books on my shelf already to hedonisticly go about buying more. The books came from a variety of places: collections and novels I didn't read for the classes they were assigned, bargain bin and closing sales, books I thought I'd enjoy but whose prose style turned me off very early on, and simply books that I haven't gotten to yet. In short, despite the rather large number of unread books on my shelf there's a stunning few I'm biting at the bit to read. 

I've attempted to adopt methods to cure this, such as reading two books on my shelf for every one I buy, or even alternating between shelf book and new book but ultimately it's a loosing battle. The lure of what I don't own usually ends up winning, and something else is bought and read or the shelf is added to. Just as I said last week, there is simply not enough time to read all of the books you need to, and even there were were who has the patience to read them all? 

I read nineteen books in 2008, and including Gaiman's Anansi Boys that's exactly how many books are on my shelf. Can I really be expected to read through my shelf without buying anything new? If not, When can I buy something new? What about that damn copy of Admission that is supposed to be coming in the mail?!

The whole situation is incredibly frustrating, and it's got me to write up a list of books I'm desperate to read, but don't have my hands on. Here's what I wish I had to choose from and why (Alphabetical by Author): 

1) The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - Interestingly, this book trilogy can't be found in single versions any more-- which isn't so much a loss as they're all novellas anyway. I was turned on to Paul Auster when I was given the comic book adaptation of City of Glass (the first in the trilogy) about a month ago. The adaptation was fascinating, and fully aware that these things only tend to get worse in adaptation-- I'm keen on reading the source. 

2) The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker - This is the novella that would inspire the horror franchise Hellraiser (I think you can find Pinhead's resemblance on the cover, yeah?). Clive Barker's passages are near legendary in their ability to revolt the reader they're so gruesome, and that alone is enough to make me interested, but the fact that it also inspired the Hellraiser franchise, and is incredibly short while being one of Barker's more notable pieces of fiction helps seal the deal. Besides, I love creepy stuff.  

3) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - Growing up a comic reader, anything that's labeled as "Super Hero Deconstruction" is bound to catch my interest. A few weeks ago I was reading Superfolks, the granddaddy of that particular theme. Should a novel also be Pulitzer prize winning as this one is, it's guaranteed to make my pull list. It also doesn't hurt that I can still find it in hardcover, and that its cover is pretty neat. 

4) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - Aside from having probably one of the best titles for a book ever written, this book is also the basis for the film classic Blade Runner. While, I'm not a Blade Runner fan (in fact, I've never seen more than 10 minutes) the book (and film) interests me. In addition to that Dick is the author of a book called The Man in the High Castle which was the first work to combine the past and the future to creature an alerted timeline-- similar to what I'm working on now. High Castle is on my pull list too, but I'm more interested in reading Dick's claim to fame. 

5) Welcome to Hard Times by E. L. Doctorow - The first Doctorow book I read was his most notable novel, Ragtime. The second was a much less significant work entitled The Waterworks that I didn't like nearly as much. I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, and Doctorow is one of the most notable literary writers for that particular niche. Welcome to Hard Times is one of Doctorow's more notable works - I believe what made him famous- and hoping it will have the same feel that Ragtime did. Besides, the title is amazing

6) Jesus' Son by Dennis Johnson - I'm a huge fan of the short story, and I would prefer it to the novel if short story collections weren't such a pain for me to read through. One of my favorite writers is Raymond Carver, and amazon seems to think that because I like Carver, I'll like Johnson-- plus his collection comes wildly recommended. Johnson was also the finalist for the Pulitzer for fiction last year. I think that's enough to get me to read a 160-something page collection. 

7) The Stand by Stephen King - As I mentioned, I'm a huge horror fiction fan - I love stuff that's creepy and off-beat even if it doesn't scare me. About 4 or 5 years ago I devoured Stephen King novels; I probably read more than 15 of them within six months. One of the more notable books I never got to was King's magnum opus, The Stand. It's something I've wanted to correct for a long time but because of the novel's incredible length I never managed to.

8) Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell - If The Stand is the horror epic I've never managed to get to, then Gone With the Wind is the historical fiction epic I've never gotten to. Aside from that is spawned one of the most successful, and fantastic movies of all time-- Gone with the Wind is also one of the most significant works of historical fiction ever written, though perhaps a bit inaccurate. Another amazing title that's lost it's umph because it's so much a part of the public consciousness. 

9) Voices from the Fire by Alan Moore - Moore is a legend in the comic world, but only one of his works is a piece of fiction, in the novelistic sense of the word. The subject, and ideas in the novel are absolutely irrelevant to me, and I only have a vague idea of what the work is about. Really, the reason I want to read this is because it's Alan Moore's only work of prose. Also, that's not the whole cover. It's an awkwardly shaped book and wouldn't scale properly. 

10) The Right Hand of Sleep by John Wray - I recently read my first book by John Wray and I was very impressed. In an interview, he admitted that he wrote his most recent work to appeal more to younger readers (20s and 30s) because the fact that his reading demographic was much older bothered him, him being a writer in his mid-thirties and read mostly by people older than forty. Wray's two other novels are historical fiction-- and while I'm sure they're equally good-- this one has a better title and cover. 

Anyway, That's my list of books I'm dying to read. Actually, the list of books I'm dying to read is much, much longer than that but these are the ones I'm jonzing for the most. Is it wrong to want to buy more books even though I have so many still on my shelf? Do you have this problem? Are there any books you're jonzing to read? 


Matt Sinclair said...

Although it's been a while since I've been in college, I can totally relate to the lure of other books. I've got shelves of books I've not yet read that appealed to me at the time I acquired them.

Of the list you include, I'd push Kavalier and Clay to the top. Excellent! One of my personal favorites. Great characters, compelling tales, and as a comic fan you'll probably enjoy it at a level I can't even fathom.

Androids is also an excellent book, and it's not too much like the movie (indeed, which version of the movie?)

The Stand indeed is long. Many King fans consider that their favorite of all his works. (Personally, I prefer IT) But if you need a good summer read, the Stand is a good bet.

Joe said...

I think that's about the sum of it, Matt. It's the allure of something new, and if you don't get around to it right away it can get replaced pretty quickly.

I'll be sure to put Kavalier and Clay at the top of my to buy list. Once I manage to get another two or three books on my 'read' shelf then I'll probably be up for making the inevitable next amazon purchase.

I tried reading It once, but I think it was as far back as junior high. I need to check that out too. My favorite King book is Misery, which I've been meaning to re-read.