Unread book audit

With my to-be-read pile growing ever higher, and the rest of the family undertaking absorbing lockdown projects of their own (knitting, Lego towers, cooking, gardening, bottle flipping), I decided to audit my unread book collection. I was inspired by the Unread Book Challenge and Modern Mrs Darcy.

I first tackled my unread physical book pile, housed on a tower bookcase (scarily tall but perfectly stable!) and a small wooden shelf. Having passed on a third of the physical books to the community library, this collection feels more manageable. Here are some after images.

I moved on to e-books, and deleted almost half of the samples on my Kindle. That may sound like a lot, but I still have 220 samples and 12 unread books remaining. To ensure I really wanted to read these, I wrote out a brief description of each book by hand – twelve pages that look something like this:

To enable quick searching of this list, and my Kindle, I created my own categories (with books tagged in multiple categories):

  • Light and fun / 2am/ comfort reads
  • Dystopian/ speculative
  • Non-fiction/ memoir
  • Challenging/ award-winning/ non-fiction/ literature with a capital ‘L’
  • Crime/ psychological thriller/ horrow
  • Contemporary fiction/ literary fiction
  • Travel to other countries, other worlds, other times, other lives

To support reading according to mood, I refined these further into one word categories: Think, Relax, Wonder, Puzzle, Witness. With e-books sorted, I applied these categories to the physical books. Wonder and Think pictured below:

I realised I have a lot of books about books and writig, and books featuring university campuses:

My reading is tending towards the Light and fun/ 2am/ comfort read category. If you are in lockdown and missing your university campus, try a few recents reads from my collection: Never Saw Me Coming (psychopaths on campus), Plain Bad Heroines (queer gothic on campus), The Love Hypothesis (scientific romance on campus) or Legendborn (magical fantasy on campus).

Lockdown

In Sydney, we are in our fourth or fifth week of lockdown with covid numbers rising and (at least) another four weeks of working and schooling from home ahead. There’s a dullness to our days. Between Zoom meetings and supervising schoolwork, I started to write a list of the things that are getting us through the coming weeks and putting smiles on our faces.

Lego: the star of school STEM activities such as building a flagpole, a tool for family challenges (spinning tops, towers), and a treat brought by the postie. We are enjoying catching up on past seasons of Lego Masters, which has prompted conversations about feedback and bias.

Chocolate: the combination of licorice and dark chocolate is delish and the ratio of the Darrell Lea block is just right. Other food indulgences include condiments, take away, new recipes (this week includes caramel semifreddo, mulligatawny, Korean chicken and risotto) and snack experiments such as black bean brownies.

Watching the Olympics: we have a local community connection to Dominic Clarke, who represented Australia in trampolining. We cheered when he got through to the finals, and cried when he was unable to finish his routine. It was a tough competition. His smile was wonderful to see. After qualifying for the final he said: “I’m over the moon… It’s the best performance I’ve put up all year and it literally just came down to me having fun on the floor!”

Comfort reading: quirky and light reads, choosing from the to-be-read pile, browsing the little street library, reading the same books and talking about them, listening to audiobooks or videos of picture books. Here are a few of our recent favourites:

Spring-like weather: for gardening while listening to music (Double J, the radio station described as”older than Triple J”, just celebrated 40 years of Sonic Youth, the sound of my teen years), walking the dog, opening the windows, hanging out washing, doing a garden scavenger hunt, playing ping pong on the outdoor table at the park. And the chooks are laying again!

Creativity: my creativity has taken a dive, and I have withdrawn from my creative writing course for the semester, but this provides an excuse to showcase my teen’s artwork for music created by a schoolfriend:

Novelty: when so much remains the same, we are craving new experiences any way we can get them. As well as food and books, we are trying new television shows (Lost in Oz, The Tailings, Cleverman, Ms Represented, Starstruck), an online escape room with colleagues (here is a free version from the Sydney Opera House), a creative kids box from the State Library, new games (Greed), rainbow bubble bath, a scented candle and fresh flowers.

What about you? I would love to hear what works for you (or has helped in the past if lockdowns are behind you).

Distractions, interruptions

Since I cannot tell the story in a straight line, and I lose my thread, and I start again, and I forget something crucial, and it is hard to think about how to weave it in, and I start thinking, thinking, there must be some conceptual thread that will provide a narrative here, some lost link, some possibility of chronology … (Butler, 2001, 35).

So writes Judith Butler in Giving an Account of Oneself. It is difficult to write—to think—otherwise now. Here in Sydney, Australia, we are having school holidays in lockdown as covid cases creep inexorably upwards. Work is one long Zoom meeting. I find myself in the same patterns as March 2020: retreating, counting, waking, fretting, waiting. Trying to write, I am ‘divided, ungrounded, or incoherent from the start’ (Butler, 2001, 22). I experience myself and time as fragmentary. Distractions abound.

Television. Not something I spend a lot of time with, but the whole family has enjoyed the third season of Lego Masters (I’m team Sarah and Fleur—those zombie cheerleaders, that dream art house). My vote for favourite show of the year, however, is Creamerie from Aotearoa/New Zealand, set in a near future dystopia in which men have been wiped out by a virus. Dark and funny.

Food. We had a ‘healthy’ versus unhealthy brownie taste challenge. I think these black bean brownies are the winners, but they were eaten too quickly to be sure. We will have to try again.

Walks. I am listening to audio books while walking the dog, including 14 hours of The Unwomanly Face of War, Russian oral history of women’s experiences during the second world war. The casuarina forest near our home is my favourite place.

Books. I am reading more 2am books (vacuous and predictable at any other time of day, genre fiction makes night waking enjoyable). At other times, I am enjoying:

Games. My son has invented a giant board game called Misery. You become the piece, rolling a die and landing on paper spread out on the floor. Many of them are labelled ‘Misery’ and you choose a card that describes a miserable thing that will happen to you (such as having to eat porridge without honey). There are some ‘Luck’ cards as well but, as the name of the game suggests, misery abounds. On a more jolly note, we are looking forward to the free online activities the State Library of New South Wales has scheduled for the holidays, including Secret codes, ciphers and more.

I am always interruptible. I thought I had borrowed this phrase from Sarah Knott’s (2019) Mother: An Unconventional History, but rereading the book I cannot locate it. She writes a sensory account of caring for infants in the past that is based on anecdotes, incomplete texts, traces and fragments. The author had her first child while researching and writing the book, and a chapter on the hidden history of mothering in the middle of the night, traced through bedding, night-time arrangements and sleeping patterns, ends with this sentence: ‘8.20. 10. 11.45. 2. 5. 5.40. And then we are up’ (Knott, 2019, 90).

Butler (2001, 34) wonders about the interruptions of texts, and whether we prefer the ‘seamlessness of the story’ and the illusion of a ‘coherent autobiographer’ who reveals the ‘truth of the person’, but concludes: ‘It may be that stories have to be interrupted, and that for interruption to take place, a story has to be underway.’

Always interruptible. I’ve found that reference. It is Lisa Baraitser’s (1989) Maternal Encounters: The ethics of interruption.  She writes in anecdotal fragments, leaving ‘small, unintegrated and perhaps undigestible nuggets of maternal writing within the more formal academic reflections, as well as using them to interrupt myself.’ She wants to interrupt herself, as much as possible, to ‘throw myself off the subject—especially my own tendency to be drawn back towards the relative safety of theory’ (13). Afterbirth, tantrums, tears, not enough hands: all in the text in its raw form, in between reading theory from Luce Irigaray, Emmanuel Levinas, Julia Kristeva, Jessica Benjamin and Judith Butler.

The safety of theory. It’s an interesting idea—retreating to the comfort of other people’s words—and the implied risk of writing the self. “I start thinking, thinking…”