Kimmie Mac and Too Many Books: Confessions of a Book Hoarder
I’ve always liked books. I have fond memories of Little Golden Books and all things Dr. Seuss, most of which had duct taped spines in my house from years of abuse. I really caught the book bug and a love of reading from Ann M. Miller and her delightfully addicting 80’s pre-teen must-have series, “The Baby-Sitters Club” (BSC if you are in the know). I also developed my somewhat peculiar habit of book hoarding around this time. Well before Kindles, but still in the ye ‘ole time of library card catalogues, I became obsessed with not only reading the books, but also owning them. Scholastic was on point with their marketing game, as little girls everywhere started to collect the most empowering thing I can think of – literature. I still find great satisfaction of looking at the numbered spines of #1 through Super Special #10 of the BSC. I have them. All.
In the years after graduating from BSC novels, I had some help with literature selection in the form of mandatory HS English class. Mostly though, I would wander around the bookstore with money I made as a catering assistant (which you can legally do in the state of Ohio at 14) and purchase the largest/longest book possible. My thinking was that if you are going to spend your hard earned cash, best buy lots of words. Ironically, these days I enjoy a good sparse Hemmingway, but I found my favorite book using this method!
Right around the time of my high school graduation, I found a poster (pre-internet!) of the Modern Library’s List of the Best 100 Novels of the 20th Century. A numbered series of books (just like the BSC!), that list fit right in with my hoarding habits and bookstore aisle wanderlust. And so I begin.
For 18 years, I have been reading my way through this list. Before you think I am the world’s slowest reader, there are actually TWO lists, an editor’s list (chosen by an editorial review board) and the readers’ list (an unscientific poll of 200,000 self-selected voters). Only 31 books on the two lists overlap (which is all sorts of interesting if you think about it) which means that I’ve been working my way through 169 books. To complete the list by now, I would need to have read nine books each year since 1998, which I certainly have not. My best calculations based on fading memory and an always-growing home library is that I have read between 50-55 of them. That’s almost 3 per year – not bad, right?
Every so often I take a look at the list (mostly to find my next book) and I see that I have barely made progress. This drives me insane. How have I been reading, steadily, in the evenings, on the beach, on rainy days, in the subway, in front of a fire, in the hammock, over breakfast, for EIGHTEEN years and not made it further in this infuriating list that, notably, many contemporary critics argue is irrelevant!? But, how, after getting this far, do I turn back? I cannot. I must finish the list, so each year I trudge on and bravely ask myself if I’m ready yet for Ulysses or if I can skip the L. Ron Hubbard stuff and still consider the list reading complete? I mean, really, some of the selections on the reader’s list…questionable at best. Despite my raised eyebrow at Stephen King’s IT (#84), I read along. Despite pages upon pages of Ayn Rand soliloquy at the end of Atlas Shrugged (#1), I read on. Do I have any idea what Virginia Woolf was saying in To the Lighthouse (#15)? Absolutely not, but I read on. Something about getting through the list has me hooked, and not all in a bad way. Some people, in my lifetime, at different levels of literary expertise, agreed that these books are worth reading – so who am I to argue? Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two about Scientology and stream-of-consciousness as a literary technique?
The list has forced me to read a handful of books that I might not consider “the best” but has also led me on so many delightful side trips. I discovered Papa Hemingway and spent at least a couple of collective years diving into every excursion to Cuba and Africa. I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird (#5) again as an adult (I didn’t count anything I had read before I found the list) and have probably read it every other summer since 2005. Faulkner, Joyce, Kipling and James. These guys we long forget after passing through college lit, but I’ve had an excuse to read them all, something I would have never found approachable without my trusty list. It has introduced me to countless authors who I picked up from the list and then promptly deviated from it to read everything else I could find by them – I’m looking at you Johnny Steinbeck.
In the end, the list continues to force me out of my literary comfort zone. Reading is certainly a passive past time, but it also is a way to kick start creativity and imagination. I can skip around from pondering the perception of satisfaction (Of Human Bondage, #66) to day dreaming about digging the beat life (On the Road, #55). I don’t believe anyone can fully reach his or her imaginative or creative potential without some outside influence. Reading books you might not like or don’t know if you will enjoy is a great way to challenge and engage that part of yourself. The best part about it? You might like it, and if you don’t, all books come to an end…eventually.