It is a truth universally acknowledged that reading lists always grow. I have kept lists of books that I want to read since I was a teenager. Now that I’m a Good Reads devotee, I have my “to-read” list stored online. When I think back on the years of reading goals, one thing becomes clear: I never read some of those books. It might even be accurate to say that I never read most of them.
A reading list to me is not a homework assignment. The OCD part of my personality enjoys making lists, and reading is one of my primary activities. Naturally I enjoy bringing the two together. Still, I have never made a list of books to read and then forced myself to adhere to it. I find that the best way to remain an enthusiastic reader is to pick up whatever book peaks my interest at that moment. I might have an idea of the next few books I want to read, but nothing is set in stone. It’s the titles that sneak into the lineup that often end up being the most enjoyable.
So if I’m not going to follow it, what’s the point of making a list? First of all, a reading list is aspirational. It gives me an unofficial goal for moments when I feel unmotivated. A reading list is also a memory tool. I don’t know how often customers come into the bookstore looking for a book they heard about on the radio or from a friend, only to realize they don’t remember the title or the author. I usually have a good memory for such things, but I hear about a lot of books in my travels.
Speaking of the bookstore, my job sometimes leads to a kind of reader’s depression. It comes with the realization that there are so many good books in the world, and I will never have time to read everything that I want to. During my early days on Good Reads, when I was still a wee English major, my to-read list consisted mainly of British and American literature that I heard about in class. Occasionally they might even be books assigned in a class that I didn’t have time to finish reading. (Yes, it happened. Sorry, professors.) Now my reading list is more likely to include books that I learn about at work or online.
The ever-expanding reading list should be hopeful instead of disheartening. I may not have read every book that once interested me, but I read the ones that interested me most. The others aren’t going anywhere. I read to better myself, study the craft of writing, and find enjoyment—not to check items off a list. I just have to trust that I will find the right books at the right time.