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Reading update

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Yesterday, I finished the anthology I'd been reading and skimming for the past few days: Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year #2, which was full of interesting-but-flawed stories, many of them featuring utopias and dystopias; a fascinating snapshot of early-1970s sf, and much more interesting than the previous volume in the series. (Though vol. 1 did include Panshin's excellent “How Can We Sink When We Can Fly?”) My favorite story in vol. 2 is Russ's “Nobody's Home,” which I don't think I had read before.

I have a system for randomly picking the next book to read from my unread-mass-market-paperbacks shelf. Yesterday the random-number generator picked six books in a row that it turned out I didn't really want to read; I spent maybe ten to twenty minutes on each of them, reading a few pages or skimming bits, and then put each of them in the giveaway stack.

And that brings me down to under 300 books on those unread-mass-market-paperbacks shelves! Sure, there are still over 500 books on the unread-trade-paperbacks-and-hardcovers shelves (some of which I've read part but not all of; those omnibus editions seemed like such a good idea at the time), but I'm making progress on the mass-market paperbacks.

So far this year, I've gone through 111 books (I can't say I've “read” those; many of them I've barely glanced at), in 240 days. So in the unlikely event that I can keep up the current rate, I'll be done with the mass-market paperbacks in ... a little under two years. That's kind of disheartening. Oh, well.

I did bring this on myself, by spending most of my life acquiring books faster than I've read them. (Well, and by rescuing a couple hundred books from my father's bookcases.) And most of the books on the unread shelves are books that I have some reason to be interested in—some are things I've always meant to read (I think that Carr Year's Best has been on my bookshelf for twenty years), some are by authors I've always meant to look into, some just look intriguing. But as this project proceeds, I'm growing more willing to tell myself (as I did a couple of times yesterday) “This book is only here because I liked something else this author has written; I have no reason to believe this particular book will appeal to me; if it's not grabbing me in the first few pages, I have permission to barely glance at the rest of it and then put it in the giveaway stack.”

Also, possibly as many as a third of the remaining books are kind of random anthologies that my father owned, mostly of '50s through '70s sf. Given what I've thought of his anthologies that I've read so far, I may start just skipping those entirely unless I have some particular reason to be interested. More generally, there are a fair number of books on the unread shelves that I strongly expect I'll just glance at and then discard; but I figure I'll wait until they come up in random order rather than doing a culling pass now, because when one randomly comes up that I can make a quick decision on, that increases my sense of making progress through the shelves.

Another thing that increases my sense of progress is seeing the way the books shift on the shelves. The read-books shelves come just before the unread-books shelves, so when I read something and decide to keep it, I re-shelve it on the read-books shelves, and shift other books to accommodate it, so the point of division between the two categories moves to the right and downward. And when I read something and decide not to keep it, space frees up at the end of the unread shelves. So even though progress is slow, it's visible.

And I don't want to make it sound like this is all just a slog. I'm finally reading (or skimming) stuff I've always meant to read; I'm coming across occasional real gems (like the abovementioned Panshin and Russ stories, and Kris Neville's “Bettyann,” and Delany's Heavenly Breakfast); and I always find it satisfying to make progress on a project.

Last night, the next book that came up was a 500-page collection of Gene Wolfe short stories (Endangered Species); having just read “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” for the first time, I wasn't really in the mood for more Wolfe, but also didn't want to just give the book away without looking at it, so for the first time in quite a while I decided to ignore the random result and roll again. The next one that came up was Delany's Out of the Dead City, the first in his early Fall of the Towers trilogy, which I've been contemplating reading since I was a kid, so I've now started in on that.

(See also Facebook thread for this post.)

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