It is the wee hours of 2008, and I’m now facing the full brunt of a few resolutions I’ve made. The one about running the Twin Cities marathon is not the one that causes the most concern, mostly because I have no intention of honoring it. That resolution was made carelessly, after a couple of sidecars a few days before Christmas. Sidecars, for those who don’t know, are a grown-up beverage consisting of brandy, an orange-flavored liqueur called Cointreau, and a splash of lemon juice. Properly made, it tastes like some divine cough syrup, but should not be used in combination with motor vehicles, signing legal or financial documents, or making New Year’s Resolutions.

The resolution that I’m grimly resolved to respecting is this one: to buy no new books, unless or until, I make it through this stack:


book stack


The picture is somewhat illustrative more than exact. There are perhaps a dozen books in the picture I’ve read already, and several that I’ve no intention of reading… girly books that wandered over from my wife’s stack, either by accident or her covert attempt to feminize my reading. However, there are as many books (probably more) elsewhere which had waited for so long I finally shelved them in our little “library” downstairs, a haphazard maze of shelfs with litter boxes placed treacherously in the way. I guess it doesn’t matter if I read an Auster from the cellar instead of an Austen in the picture, but I want to explain on the outside chance that some writerly acquaintance spots his or her title among the others and sends me a cross email because I said I read it alreadyand there it is, in my to-read pile. My resolution would be best initiated with a serious attempt to sort the stack, but even looking at it makes me want to put that off until June or so, after I’ve recovered from taxes and have some vacation time saved up.

I am for the buying of books, you understand, but I am also for economy and tidiness, and my book buying has come to loggerheads with those simpler virtues. The fact is that my eyes are bigger than my stomach when I’m in a bookstore, and have been so for several years. I feel sorry for those poor, neglected books, waiting on the shelf, while I coquettishly move on to other things. So this is the year that I get through the stack instead of adding to it. Exlibrication: the removal of books. Liberty from my own library. That is what I’m after.

There are some promising titles there. This is the year I finally read Terry Pratchett, for example. I have three of his books, and have had one of them for over five years. I have Knopf books my editor sent me, by writers I now pretend are my coworkers, including Tom and Laura MacNeal, David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, and Jean Birdsall. My wife read the books and assures me they’re wonderful. I’ve got the second half of The Complete Persepolis, which has so far been amazing. I have books I’ve never read by writers I know I like: Michael Chabon, Herman Wouk, John Irving, Jerry Spinelli, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Paul Curtis, Nick Hornby, Brian Jacques, etc. I have some old favorites I acquired again and haven’t re-read yet, including two by Betsy Byars and the collected stories of H.P. Lovecraft, an early Christmas present that I’ve been enjoying all week but had to set aside for a 400-page book about mutant bird people for Guys Read. I’ve got a couple of baseball books I haven’t read, which I’ll save for baseball season, and Stephen King’s illustrated and expanded edition of Salem’s Lot (another old favorite), which will probably have to wait until Halloween. By December, I hope to be setting out on one of those books I’ll probably put off to the bitter end, like any of four dense historical novels by Julian Rathbone or the linguistically playful, but daunting, books by Russel Hoban, Daniel Handler, and Robert Coover: all of which I’ve started and think are brilliant, but reading them is like swimming in molasses, and so they are relegated, for now, to book purgatory.

First, I have to finish the book about the kids with wings. It’s part of a series, so I have to resist being remotely curious about their next adventure, or I’ll break my resolution on the first day.

Happy New Year!

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