The "To Be Read" pile...or is it merely "To Be Dusted Occasionally"?
When I first came to Poland, I brought the books I needed for a year of homeschooling, but I don't remember that I brought any books just for me to read. It was very, very difficult to find books in English then--mostly just a meager selection of Wordsworth Classics and Penguin Classics. They were pretty cheap, and I bought, over time (and still have) a collection that includes all of Jane Austen's books, quite a few novels by Charles Dickens, and the odd title such as Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone.
During those "famine" years when paper-and-ink books were few and far between, I discovered online etexts, and read many, many books on my computer screen. One in particular I remember was Our Mutual Friend.
Fortunately, I enjoy rereading books, so I read the books in my small collection over and over. For many years, I reread all six of Jane Austen's novels each year. (Whichever one I happen to be reading at the time is usually my favorite.) I discovered the small library of foreign language books, and borrowed and read my allotted two books, then returned for two more sometimes every week. (We voracious readers are insatiable, and will go to great lengths to acquire reading material.)
Apparently, I have become too good at acquiring reading material, because I have acquired more than I can read. When I was in the US in 2005, I took advantage of book sales, garage sales, homeschool conventions, used book stores, etc... I also checked out books from the library. I read the library books, but I saved most of the other ones. Books that I really wanted to read, I virtuously piled up "to read when I'm in Poland again." I hauled them all over the US, I packed them enthusiastically, and I set them up on shelves right next to my desk when I got here (nearly two years ago). "To Be Read."
Sometime, somehow, in the last ten years, things have changed a great deal in Poland. I can walk into some half-dozen bookstores and have a decent variety of English-language books to choose from. I can go to www.empik.com, where they have over two million foreign language titles available, and order (nearly) anything I could get in the US. (These options are expensive, but they are available.) The library even allows me to check out three books at a time now instead of only two.
I told someone when I came back to Poland that I had enough reading material to last for "months," but clearly, I should have said "years." Because, you see, I have not yet finished reading all the books I bought in 2005. I'm not even sure how this happened, but it is definitely true, and the number of books still in that "I'm-saving-these-to-read-when-I-get-back-to-Poland" is...well, I don't know how many there are, but there are quite a few.
Here are a few random titles, fiction and non-fiction:
The Gifts of the Jews, by Thomas Cahill
Where Shall Wisdom by Found? by Harold Bloom
The Child that Books Built, by Francis Spufford
Mrs. Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
The Book of Lights, by Chaim Potok
Tomorrow's Treasure, by Linda Lee Chaikin
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
The Well-Educated Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer
Sick of Nature, by David Gessner
The Complete Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton
The Life and Times of Rembrandt Van Rijn, by Hendrik Van Loon
If you'd had those books sitting on your shelf (among others) for two years--books you had bought expressly for yourself to read--what would you choose to read in January? I have a feeling I should discipline myself to read these in 2008. Because, you know, I haven't even mentioned the books I've acquired, by hook, crook, and Bookmooch during the past two years. The books I've bought, borrowed, and received as gifts. The books I've read instead of reading the ones I bought in the US, and the books I'm planning to read soon which have jumped ahead in the queue.
For example, not long ago, I was given a copy of Exit into History by Eva Hoffman. That would be the Eva Hoffman who wrote Lost in Translation and The Secret, both of which I read and reviewed on this blog earlier this year, or perhaps last year. Yes, Eva Hoffman is jumping to the head of the line. But those books that have been languishing on the "to be read" shelves deserve their chance, too. They are all books I chose, packed, and schlepped to Poland because I wanted to read them.
Perhaps I'll just choose the one that looks the least dusty and dive in.