Reader, I must confess.
I’m something of a list nerd. On the one hand, this is purely an addiction born of practicality. I keep track of my time, so I can send in my timesheets, so I can get paid. I keep track of the food in the house, so when I force myself to the grocery store, I don’t forget anything important or buy more than I need. We all do this—at least, those of us whose memories aren’t quite to be entrusted with important information—and with the rise of bullet journaling, some even do it with an enviable artistic flair. On the other hand, it’s easy to become a bit of a slave to one’s lists, as I have discovered.
Like many avid readers, I love to keep track of the books I read. This started as a way to figure out, at a glance, which books in my collection I had yet to read, especially given that so many were hidden away from view by piles and piles of other, newer books. But now that my collection is somewhat better organized and, for the most part, properly shelved, the list has become less of a catalogue and more of a to-do list. The tyranny of the list has taken hold; I crave the feeling of checking off and dating each title as I finish. There’s nothing like that feeling of great satisfaction that comes with “finishing off” a page, of seeing that unbroken column of check marks traversing each line.
Of course there is a downside to my constant pursuit of check marks: I am constitutionally incapable of not finishing a book. No matter how slow I find the plot, no matter how ponderous the prose, no matter how unlikeable the characters, if it’s on my list, I must, must finish the book. “DNF” is not in my vocabulary. And there’s no question of taking a book off the list—heavens no. Once on the list, always on the list. Generally this means I have more than one book on the go at all times—usually one I find so enticing I gobble it up quickly, another I like well enough to consume in small bites, and another that feels like an albatross around my neck, one that I simply need to finish for the sake of the coveted check mark.
I’ve heard all the arguments—life’s too short to waste on a book you don’t like, blah, blah, blah. But if I’m forced to defend this proclivity, I’d tell you to think about politics, or religion, or really any other hot-button topic. Would we ever say that we could achieve an informed view of an issue if we refuse to consider differing opinions? How could we ever change our minds if we are only exposed to the same arguments that fit our established way of thinking? Similarly, if we only read what we know and like and agree with, how can we ever achieve a varied and nuanced perspective of literature? How could we ever discover new favourites, experience new trends, immerse ourselves in new perspectives, new cultures, new worlds? Maybe a book grows on you, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’ll change your mind, maybe it won’t. But how would you know unless you reach the end?
I don’t believe reading any book—even one you don’t like—could truly be a waste of time. After all, at the very least you’ve given yourself an opportunity to learn more about your literary preferences. And what’s more, how could it be a waste of time if you get to experience the singular euphoria of crossing a book off your list at the end?
I hope you enjoyed—and perhaps felt a little kinship—with my ramblings here today. And now that you know of my check mark addiction, surely you’ve guessed that I’ll be crossing “write blog post” off my list!