Do You Have a System?

Paul recently commented after reading my latest Monthly Reading Pool:

I have challenged myself to read a book from each shelf in the fiction section. … My goal is to pick at least one book from each shelf, and to do 2 shelves each trip (that way I can still get books on my regular reading list). … There are some obvious flaws in my plan (the library devotes 6 complete shelves to James Patterson).

Now I have exposed various systems for selecting my monthly reading list through the years, most recently various schemes to transfer my reading from paper and ink books to digital reading with easier to read font sizes. I have also forced the inclusion of a few “real” books in an effort to reduce the large numbers of books I had to move and find bookshelves for at my new home.

Notice that these systems are mostly concerned with storage space, failing eyesight, and the inevitable onset of death.

But even when I was a regular library user, I seldom actually went to the library, preferring instead to make my library requests on the computer and then just run in and check-out an book-bag of new reading every few weeks.


But there was a time when I spent hours in the library (or bookstore) scanning the rows of books, looking for anything that caught my eye. Similar to Paul, I would usually start my search at a different stack on each visit, often completing at least a stack and a half before the books under my arm were too heavy to continue. In at least one library they kept genre fiction separated from categorized fiction. One summer I found this handy when I was pushed into reading a lot of science fiction. Interestingly, this was probably the only time that I let the glossy covers with the most grotesque BEMs influence my choice.

I did have a sub-system for selecting books either from the library or from the bookstore: if it was a common author or subject and was not too big and fat, I (hopefully) found it at the library, otherwise I ordered it through the internet. For several years I regularly attended the café at my local Barnes and Noble (Vente Americano, no room) and often spent down-time in the fiction aisles looking for something new. More often than not this involved me searching for a big fat title that would help me use up all the gift cards I would receive every Christmas or birthday. I had so many big fat books that at one point I even started an online book club dedicated to those honkers that exceeded 600 pages.

Back in my school days I had limited access to books (and no one could even imagine the internet and online access). But this was the time when your English teacher would assign various reading lists during the year and you were lucky to meet the minimum reading let alone discover the magical world of literature. But still, I remember reading Fielding, Hardy, Goldsmith, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and even Norman Mailer in my senior year of High School.

I guess I read enough literature and poetry that it was natural for me to continue as an English major at the university. The UCLA libraries were several and I found myself many a night literally buried in the open stacks at the main library, teetering on iron steps with embedded glass blocks from floor to half-floor to the next floor, always going deeper and deeper underground. You could find a book or two there, sit on the floor in the corner reading, and wake-up the next morning drooling on your best T-shirt. But that was before Ronald Reagan ruined the university system by trying to make it a profit center.


The central university library was the first time I ran into closed stacks. At what was called the Graduate Library (we called it the gaufre pourpre) you had to dig through the card catalogue, fill-out a request slip to submit at the request desk, get a number, and wait for an inordinately long time while a runner roller-skated around the stacks and (hopefully) sent your requested books down a literary dumb-waiter to the first floor. All this time you have been staring at a huge electronic board that flashed the numbers when a book was available. They didn’t even have coffee while you waited.

I think it was scenes like the Graduate Library or registration lines or that extra hour between classes that resulted in my number one rule of reading: NEVER GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT A BOOK! … including the beach.

Nowadays its an iPhone with my current reading pool loaded into Marvin, but I’m never without it. I’ll hopefully be buried with it … just in case.

3 thoughts on “Do You Have a System?

  1. I love the bit about your rule of not going anywhere without a book. I still ascribe to the same idea. My only rider would be to add a notebook and pen/pencil. I. Elieve the word for a fear of not having a book with you is ‘abibliophobia’


    1. Of course I always carried pens and paper. In fact, I used a pocket protector to hold at least two fountain pens, a couple of colored markers, and often a mechanical pencil. Then there was my purse (now generally referred to as a messenger bag) which contained at least two books for reading and three or more notebooks, one for creative writing, one for taking notes, and one containing A5 copies of my important data such as my reading list, my have-read list, and a list of all those titles already on my shelves.

      Technology has supplanted the need to lug al this stuff around and nowadays my iPhone does all the heavy lifting.

      Oh, nearing 71 myself (or is it 72?) shaky hands and weak eyes force me to rely on much of this new digital world.


  2. Finally, after months of reading (so many I´m a little embarassed) I could finish “Under the Volcano”, a suggestion of yours. It was probably one of the most difficult reading experiences of my life. So much that after the first chapter and a half, I had to read it in the spanish translation. Even so, I like it very much. I just need some time to think about it.


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