September 8, 2010

The Quest

Uh, hi, I guess.

My name's John and I work in a bookstore and, probably unsurprisingly, I covet books. A lot. And when you work in a bookstore and have very little willpower, you're able to acquire books at a phenomenal rate. Here's how it normally goes: 'Hmm, that looks interesting. And so does that. And so do those eight other hefty novels. And hey, I've carried them all up to the registers. And now my wallet's in my hand, how did that happen? And, wait, oh God, I've done it again. Looks like it's Doritos for dinner for the rest of the week.'

But the thing that really killed me was the free books. Because publishers want us to read their wares so we can talk them up to our customers, we can ask them for free copies of stuff we want to read. And get them. It's like magic or something.

And then as if that isn't enough, Penguin, the biggest book distributor in the country, has a policy that if anything arrives at our store damaged, we don't have to send it back. We can't sell it. We don't have to send it back. You do the maths on that one. And it's not just any publisher, it's bloody Penguin. Penguin with all their wonderful, terrible classics. Those ones with the black jackets, they're flimsy as hell so they can sell them so damn cheap and it sure doesn't take much to knock them out of shape. 'Samuel Richardson's Clarissa? I guess I might read it someday ...' And home it goes.

Until one fateful day I decided to count the number of unread books that I owned, and was flabbergasted by the total. I actually had to have a bit of a sit down. And so I made a pledge, a foolhardy, quixotic, anal-retentive pledge: I WOULD READ EVERY BOOK THAT I OWN! (My description of the pledge could equally be a description of me, now that I think about it. Throw in 'shy' and 'goofy-looking' and 'immature' and that's pretty much me.)

Now, the idea of going cold turkey on new books was terrifying, and as single-minded as I can be about some things, I thought there'd be no way I could stick to that. So I came up with a plan that would still allow me to buy books, just at a drastically reduced rate: I'm allowed to get a new book for every ten old books that I read. Or, to put it more simply: Read Ten, Buy One. 

And in case you're wondering about the title of the blog ... my Mum, who's lovely, but also kind of a sadist, gave me the entire six-volume, 5000-page sequence of Marcel Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' - an epic novel of one guy's kinda boring life. I know there's no way I'll ever read it if there's anything (and I do mean anything) else in the house. When I have one thing left to read, it'll be Proust. 

So, here are the basic rules: 

I can only read books that I already own.

I can only acquire (be it bought, given, stolen, found on the street, or written myself) one new book for every ten old books that I've read.

When I acquire a new book, I must read it straight away. 

(I should add that I reserve the right to break these rules as I see fit. If an author I really love has a new book out, or the film's just about to come out and I want to read it first, or if it turns out I'm as spineless as a Portuguese Man-of-War. And I've already committed the biggest cheat of all: I'm not including my copy of Shakespeare's Complete Works. I'm crazy, but I'm not that crazy.) 

So that's my quest. I've been going for about six months or so and making steady progress. The soccer World Cup was a boon. I took time off for it and managed to use the boring games (I'm looking at you, Switzerland) to get through a couple of hefty buggers that I'd been worrying might take me a couple of months each (I'm looking at you The Crimson Petal and the White).

I'll be blogging about the books I'm reading, about what's still to come on my shelves (I've got them all mapped out on an Excel spreadsheet), and I'll be soliciting opinions on what I should buy when I'm up to my tenth old book and starting to get excited. Me being me, I'll also be blogging about writing and films, and anything else that takes my fancy really. 

Cheers, JC.

currently reading: City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer
books to go: 125


  1. spiffing work ol' chap! though you do seem to be looking at a lot of people/inanimate objects...

  2. Kerls, lay off the xplanes for a bit, yeah?

    Are you calling mushrooms inanimate? Don't be so foolish.