Thursday, July 20, 2017

The appeal of limited choices... and the irony of my overflowing bookshelves

Last week I was away on my family's annual summer beach vacation to Ocean City, NJ. It's not as well-known as Ocean City, MD, but it holds a special place in my heart. I was there for my first birthday (not that I remember it!) and in my (almost) 32 years, I think I've only completely missed the trip one summer. To be honest, there's nothing fancy or even terribly unique about it, it's *just* a family-friendly beach town far enough from home to be a getaway, but not so far that the drive is miserable. And while it may not particularly stand out compared to any number of other beach towns along the coast, I absolutely love it. For me, it really doesn't get much better than sitting by the ocean with my feet in the sand and a book in my lap (and hiding under the umbrella, thank you very much). 

The beach photos aren't current, but it pretty much looks the same :)

My husband knew Ocean City is pretty much my favorite place on the planet which is why he chose to propose there (10 years ago!) And while I love lots of beach "activities" as my brother likes to call them, this year was all about the relaxation. Little man had lots of people to play with and look out for him, so mama got a much needed break (even if we were up at the crack o' dawn every morning.)

This is all basically a long-winded way of saying that I read a bunch of books last week! I had a bag packed with Newberys, novels-in-verse, a poetry collection, and a couple of really beautiful chapter books. I chose all of them from my own shelves and focused mostly on ones I'd excitedly acquired recently, but hadn't gotten around to reading yet. I did make a last minute stop at the library on our way out of town (literally) to pick up my hold for book #4 of The Naturals series, but that was the only library book I had with me. I was really looking forward to reading it after finishing book #3, so I couldn't resist diving into that one first on vacation. Despite it being a real page-turner, it did take up a big chunk of my vacation reading time. (And this means I actually FINISHED a whole series! You guys, that's kind of big for me. Anyone else feel me on this?)

But what I really want to talk about is what happened on the last few days of my vacation after I finished that library book. First, I picked up the two chapter books (My Happy Life and Princess Cora and the Crocodile knowing something light was just what I needed after a dark and twisty mystery. They were beautiful and delightful and I couldn't believe I hadn't read them sooner after buying them. Next, I picked up the poetry collection (recommended on Orange Marmalade!) and was treated to 21 gorgeously illustrated poems. I took my time with them and read many of them more than once -- and while they may not all be new favorites, I enjoyed the reading experience immensely.

Next up was Inside Out & Back Again, a Newbery Honor novel-in-verse inspired by the author's real life experience as a refugee during the Vietnam War. It was a beautiful and inspiring book full of both sadness and hope. Being able to read it straight through in a single afternoon without distractions was such a gift. Next up was a lighter middle grade anthology, Funny Girl which was a bit hit or miss for me, but do yourself a favor and read/listen to some Carmen Agra Deedy (like her Scholastic Reads podcast episode or TEDx Talk) -- she's such an amazing storyteller and her contribution was my favorite by far. Lastly, I picked up Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall. Admittedly, I chose it over others in my bag because it was so slim (and I didn't quite finish it while I was away), but it certainly qualified as a book I owned and had been meaning to read.

I ended my vacation thinking to myself: Reading from my own shelves is so great! They may have been short and easy, but I read almost six of my own books in three days! I can do this reading-from-my-own-shelves-thing! I'm going to keep this ball rolling when I get back home for sure!

And then I got home. And I saw the library stack(s).

Riiiiiight. That's why I always have so much trouble reading from my own shelves most of the time. Hmmm.

So I've been home almost a week now and I have read from those library stacks. I've ordered the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels because I really want to read the rest of the series straight through. I've visited the library, but (so far) only borrowed picture books. I've visited both of my local bookstores (looking for the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels, which they didn't have, but you don't think I left empty-handed now do you?) I have not picked up any more books from my own shelves (yet). But I have been thinking it all over and trying to figure out how to better balance my reading. And I think it all comes down to the appeal of limited choices. It was so easy to read from my own shelves on vacation because I had one bag of books to choose from. Simple as that.

Continuing with that logic, you'd think the public library with its thousands upon thousands of titles would leave me with too many choices, but once I take a stack home... I once again have limited choices. It's easy to read from my library stack partly because due dates help me prioritize, but also because I'm picking from only a handful of titles -- far fewer than when I take a peek at my own overflowing bookshelves and don't know where to start.

So where does this leave me? It's pretty embarrassing to admit I have so many books it's hard to decide what to read next. It's pretty embarrassing to admit that having so many books hasn't stopped me from getting more when I hear great recommendations on podcasts or blogs or find a great deal or go down a rabbit hole with a new-to-me author/series/topic/award. It's pretty embarrassing to admit how many books I get (mostly children's) with the intention of building a home library for our family, even though so many are far above my son's level and I can't possibly keep up with them all myself. BUT I think I do have a solution.

Book buying bans don't work.

Library bans don't work.

Making reading into a chore or a job or a thing to check off a to-do list doesn't work.

But what does work? Filling a bag with books (mostly) from my own shelves that I'm really excited about and letting those be my "short-list" when it's time to pick my next read. I can't be on vacation all the time, but just maybe I can approach my reading as if I were packed for vacation all the time. I think it's worth a shot!

* * * * *

P.S. I love Jade's idea for seasonal reading lists and it strikes me as sort of a variation of what I'm trying to do here.

P.P.S. Can I go back to the beach now? Pretty please?


  1. Ahh, I totally agree about the bookish paths we're going down now being pretty similar, and so I can so relate to everything you've said here Christine. I think having a small (well, small for a bookworm) selection of books to choose from is going to help the both of us long term. I wish you well on this new reading adventure of yours!

    Also, that beach looks lovely, and it sounds like it holds many wonderful memories for you.

    1. Thanks Jade! I hope it works for you too :) This book-picking business seems like it should be so easy, but it isn't always!

  2. That vacation sounds so nice! Also, finishing a series is a big deal! I have so many I still need to get back to.

    You read so many books from your shelves from vacation, I totally think it is the limited options thing! I will even finish a book then go to my shelves and feel overwhelmed with choices and then not pick anything at all. I think I shall try this new strategy of yours. Maybe just have a physical current TBR pile to pick from of like 8 books and go with that. We shall see. Lately I have just been reading for grad school but I have three weeks off coming up after summer before fall term starts. I wish you luck!

    1. So. Many. Series!

      And I hope it works for you too! I haven't really dove into this method yet since I've been 24in48 read-a-thon-ing this weekend and kind of just winged it (but I read from my shelves! woo hoo!) I'm not sure I will have a literal bag or not, but the physical TBR stack or basket or some sort of designated spot is needed. I hope the stack works for you and enjoy those 3 weeks off :)

  3. I find my shelves overwhelming. I just want to reduce the number by reading a few books off my shelf every month. I love going to the library, so I have lots of library books checked out all the time.

    1. Sounds a lot like me! I'm hoping to read more off my own shelves by trying this new method, and cutting back a little on my library borrows by asking myself if those books are really going to make it onto my limited "to-read-next" pile or not. Good luck!

  4. What a great idea! I resonate with everything you say in this post, and I think the limited option thing sounds like a great solution. I think I'll try that, too. Although I first have to stop checking out so many library books. I was doing so well for a few months, but I'm definitely regressing.

    The limited stack worked well for me for 24 in 48. I kept reading from that stack (of 90% my own books!) even after the readathon was over. I hope it works for you, and I'm stealing this idea! :)

    1. The library is hard to resist! And truthfully, I do want to use and support my library, so I'm never going to abandon it altogether, but for now, I think focusing on picture books to borrow might be best for me.

      The limited stack for a readathon really does work well. It gives me hope that this grand plan of mine will work -- so far, so good and I hope it works for you too!

  5. Wow! I'm going to try that! Thank you so much for writing this post!


I'd love to hear what you think :)