How many of your library’s books have you read? How do you pick out the next books you check out?
I am always fascinated by the randomness in book popularity. The books we all know about are so well known because they have 1) good marketing, 2) great quality writing, 3) a timely story, or 4) lots of good luck. Usually they have some combination of all four, and there are probably many great books sitting unnoticed in between the books we notice on the library shelves, books we might enjoy far more than the ones we recognize and check out, but that we ignore because we know nothing about them.
In middle school I realized that I could make a sizable dent in our local branch library by just starting in ‘authors starting with a’ and the 0-200 segment of the Dewey decimal system, checking out nearly all the books, 10-15 at a time, and reading systematically through the library’s collection. I only got to ~350 before I ran out of time and interest, and the paperback authors starting with d, but it was a project that stuck with me because I read all sorts of books I’d never heard of and would never have noticed, but that I enjoyed. I learned all sorts of stuff I never would have encountered otherwise, and I’ve always wanted to renew my commitment to such a project.
Well, now that I am stuck living once again in my old hometown, I am restarting my Read Barkman Branch Library’s Books project. I am not only checking out books in order, but I am pointedly grabbing a couple books from the tail ends of book sections each time I check out books. I took home 3 from the adult general fiction section, the first 3 I hadn’t read yet from authors starting with a. I also checked out the final book in the shelf of authors starting with z. I already had out 8 books, so with these 4 I am at my self-imposed soft limit of 12 books, but as I turn in books I’ll check out more books from the ends of the sections and work my way in. I also pick out at least one book at semi-random, just something that catches my eye. I read The House of Velvet and Glass (Katherine Howe)in this way, and I have Pomegranate Soup , by Marsha Mehran, that I’ll read this week.
I also check out books that ‘everyone’ on tumblr is talking about, and whatever books I actually went to the library intending to find, so my stacks look pretty chaotic, but the end result will be that I can ‘check off’ whole shelves of books in the library’s collection. I don’t have to read them all, and there are books I skip because they really are not of interest to me at all, but I hold myself to a strict standard in rejecting them. Unfamiliar books must be given a fair chance.
Do you have a small local library whose collection seems approachable for such a reading project? Is there a section of your library you could focus on that you could read through systematically? If so, and if you like the sound of this project, I challenge you to start on your own ‘Read Your Library’ campaign. It seems daunting if you think you have to finish in a set time, but really it is as simple as checking out the first 1-3 books in the section you’re reading, and reading those books. You’ll not finish, most likely, because new books are published every month, so the collection will change as you are reading it, but by focusing your attention on reading systematically through a section you’ll give a chance to all those books in between the familiar ones, and you may find some hidden gems and new favorites in the process.