Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Challenge of Challenges

I started the year with three reading challenges:

13 adult classics
13 children's classics
The nonfiction five

The first two were unofficial challenges I spun off from the whole "Thursday Thirteen" meme. The third one seemed like a piece of cake, since I read many more than five nonfiction books a year (especially if you count all the books I edit, which I don't). The nonfiction five has been going along quite well; the children's classics is not too far behind; but before the half-year mark hit, I'd already decided that my 13 adult classics list was way too ambitious, and I altered it somewhat. Now I'm wondering if I shouldn't pretend I was doing a "Friday Five" instead of a "Thursday Thirteen." I read, on average, about 52 books per year. Whatever possessed me to make more than half of these books I "had" to read, especially since my job involves nothing but reading books I "have" to read, is a huge mystery. Five, as Ian noted recently, would have been much more realistic.

I bet you this year, I will read a record 72 books or so, because procrastination has been the name of the game, and so many other books I've had for years, as well as those people have been discussing on their blogs, have suddenly looked far more enticing than any of the books I have on my challenge lists. Although I may still make it through all the children's classics, and I've only got two more nonfiction titles to read, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to make it through all the adult classics by December 31. I think, sometime in the next week, as we head into the fourth quarter, I'm going to have to take a look at what I've read, what I've got left to read, and modify that one even more.

This is all to say that I had sworn off challenges. They're just not a good idea for someone whose eyes are obviously too big for her stomach, someone who can't leave the library with less than ten books in hand, knowing perfectly well she can't and won't read ten books in three weeks. But, you know, swearing off challenges is like swearing off coffee. Who can ever really keep that up forever? Sure, you go those first few weeks, drinking your herbal tea and your hot chocolate, telling everyone you don't miss it, that you feel so much better, that you don't understand why you ever felt you couldn't start the day without at least one cup. Then, one night, you're out to dinner, and the friends who are with you order the most delicious-looking cappuccinos, so lovingly served in beautiful big, white mugs, and you find yourself drooling with envy. You're too embarrassed to break down and order one in front of them, since you've made the mistake of extolling the virtues of no longer being a coffee addict to anyone who will listen, so you secretly stop at Starbucks on your way home and buy yourself a cappuccino that you're sure pales in comparison to the ones served at dinner.

Well, Imani must be a gourmet chef, having made the most delicious-smelling-and-looking (perfect foam, perfect mug) cappuccino over here, otherwise known as the outmoded authors challenge. Everyone is indulging his or her coffee lust and making me feel like I'm an idiot for having sworn off it. This is the challenge for those who don't do challenges, a challenge that includes all kinds of authors I'm planning on reading anyway, a challenge that allows participants to read only as many books as they'd like. Still, I was reluctant. I mean, I've got Faust to read, which I had planned to start in January, so I could read it very, very slowly throughout the year. It's now August. Have I even gotten past the cover? No.

But then something happened. I was visiting the office this week, where my colleagues have set up a library of books that people borrow (no due dates, no late fines), and there, on the shelf, was Elizabeth Bowen. I defy anyone to tell me that this wasn't a sure sign that I'm meant to take on this challenge, especially since Elizabeth Bowen is someone I've been wanting to read ever since I read my first Ivy Compton-Burnett, oh, about four years ago now, and one of Bowen's books was advertised in the back of it. Goodbye, Faust (maybe some other year); hello, about twenty outmoded authors.

So, now comes the real challenge: whittling down that twenty, a.ka. keeping myself from checking out ten books I know I can't and won't read in three weeks. I've been visiting and re-visiting that author list. They all look so tempting. Some, like Compton-Burnett, I've read, but only one book. Others, like Somerset Maugham, I read so long ago, I don't remember much except that I liked them, and I've been looking for an excuse to re-read. And then, there are those I've never heard of who must be explored.

I'm still mulling it over. I want to browse my shelves. I'm trying to narrow my extensive list down to four (no, not even five. Just four. In six months. Even I should be able to do that). I've still got two weeks to decide. As soon as I do, I'll go over there and post my list.

P.S. Would someone please tell me how to copy and paste the button onto a blogger site? I can't seem to get it to do so.


Rebecca H. said...

Yay!!! You're joining us! You got me with the coffee analogy -- I've struggled with coffee like I've struggled with challenges -- but how can I resist?

I've decided I'll try to stick to challenges with rules as easy to follow as Imani's. Oh, and I've read 6 of my 13 classics, and I doubt I'll finish the other 7. I may get to a few more, but there's no way I can finish all of them, particularly when one of them is William James's Variety of Religious Experience.

Anonymous said...

I had sworn of challenges as well (I have an abysmal track record), but I couldn't resist this one. I just chose authors I wanted to read and I hope I get through a few books (but no set limits). Come over to the dark side! :)

Rebecca said...

Coffee is now good for you, you know. Come and join the party, Emily!

mandarine said...

Now, I have read the post more than twice and still cannot see what is this 'the button' you are needing help with.

As for challenges, I stay at a neutral distance. I know there is no way I can read all these books, but I also know they give good ideas. Reading Lady Susan for the Slaves of Golconda was a good introduction to Austen's work, and made we want to go straight to her big novels.

Oh, and I just love to measure my success retrospectively at challenges I did not take. Nonfiction five will be an easy one. I will probably go round in bogey with the thirteen classics. And as I intend to tackle the job of volunteer audio-book reader for LibriVox with children's books, I'll probably score OK at the children's classics too.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, I completely forgot that you were reading 13 classics this year as well. I'm feeling much better now about the possibility of not getting through all mine.

Sarah, here I am, one foot in the dark side and the other to follow soon.

Becky, yes, I've just read how coffee is very good for you. (Of course, the person saying that was William Campbell Douglass, who will tell you just about anything is good for you.)

I like that measuring success retrospectively, which might mean I've read more for my challenges than I might think. Certainly, I have for the nonfiction five, and maybe even for adult classics, if I can say, for instance, that Armistead Maupin has reached "classic" status.

Meanwhile, "the button" I'm talking about is here:

mandarine said...

About the button. The way I figure it is:
-go to the outmoded authors page with the buttons
-right-click and 'save image as'. If you have one of those old MacMice with only one button, you cannot right-click but you can CTRL-click, which does the same job
-save the image to somewhere you can remember on your hard drive
-go to your blogger dashboard and edit the post you want to put the button in (if you want the button in the sidebar, you'll have to find more help. I cannot figure out how theming works in blogger)
-put the cursor where you need the image in your post, and then click the 'add image' button in the toolbar. I guess you can find your way from there.

Emily Barton said...

Mandarine, mirabile dictu, it worked!