This afternoon I stole a few minutes to wander through my local library. It's a small branch, with the mere basics of fiction: all the classics, and the most popular books of the last 10-15 years. As I walked the aisles, titles and authors' names jumped out at me like the formulas in A Beautiful Mind. Maybe it was due to this specific library's selection, but I realized I'd read dozens, maybe hundreds of these books. What's more, I'd forgotten about almost all of them. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Babylon Sisters and What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage. A Day Late and a Dollar Short and How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Toni Morrison. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The entire works of Marian Keyes. They leapt out at me, reminding me how I felt, how old I was, and who I was when I read them.
As I continued to wander, I started to feel some regret that I'd never kept a list of all the books I'd read. I wish I'd started one when I was, say, fourteen. I'd have included everything from the great works of literature I studied in high school to the James Patterson thrillers I read on the beach every summer. Surely my list would number in the thousands by now. Sixteen years of adult reading times an estimated 60-70 books a year (that's about 4-5 books a month in the winter, 6-8 in the summer). That would get me to about a thousand. But it's not really the number I'd be interested in. I'd like to be able to look back and see which books spoke to me at different times in my life. Why did The Importance of Being Earnest strike my funny bone when I found a copy of the play in my arts camp theater bookshelf at nineteen? Should I give Things Fall Apart another try now, because I have a nagging feeling I didn't really understand it at fifteen? And notice how my summer in England at twenty-one begat a flurry of reading P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie! It would be like a personal diary, told through books. Think of the memoir I could write with that material!
I suppose the obvious conclusion from this experience is that I should start cataloguing my books now. After all, I'm only thirty. If I look back on my reading years from the distance of seventy or eighty (may it please God), missing my first sixteen years won't seem like such a big deal. But part of me is still uncertain. It almost feels as though writing down what I've read- literally everything I've read- reveals too much of my soul. I'm not sure if I'm ready for that type of exposure, even to myself. I suppose that's an odd feeling to have, given that I write so much about what I read. But I can't ignore it.
What do you think? Should I start a list? Do you have one of your own? And if you don't, as I suspect is the case, do you wish you had?