Monday, February 20, 2012

To Be Read...Eventually


Pretty much everyone I know has an extensive TBR (To Be Read) list, and this is especially true of my writer friends. I know for a fact that I will never get caught up on my TBR list, because until the day I die there will be books published that I'll want to read. And that's okay. The point is that we keep reading. But there are certain books, for one reason or another, I've had on my TBR list for years.

Being from a small farming community, I grew up working. But my first real official job when I turned 16 was making burgers at McDonald's. Yes, quite glamorous, I know. But hey, you gotta start somewhere. One day I was in the break room and noticed someone had left a copy of Jack Kerouac's DESOLATION ANGELS on the table. I picked it up and read the first few pages, and was struck by the writing - both the style and the words that were written. It was unlike anything I'd ever read. My break ended and I went back to the burgers, but I never forgot that book.

Fast-forward a few years, I was in my early 20's trying to figure out myself and the world and how the two things were supposed to fit together. I ended up reading a ton of Kerouac at that time. ON THE ROAD was and is my favorite of his. That book, combined with John Steinbeck's TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE, sent me off into the unknown: Backpacking in Europe, cross-country road trips and even a summer spent in Alaska. I had the wanderlust for sure. And I started reading DESOLATION ANGELS again. But at some point something must have come up, and I put it down.

A few years ago I picked it up again, fully intent on getting through it, but again one thing or another made me put it down. But it always stayed in the back of my mind. It was always one of those books that I needed to read.

The last few years I've been keeping track of the books I read on Goodreads. I love being able to see what I've read, and I wish something like this had existed my whole life. Anyway, I made a goal in 2011 to read 100 books, a goal which I happily achieved. But this year I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to just go for quantity. One night I was looking at my bookshelf, and DESOLATION ANGELS caught my eye. It was sitting up there with a bookmark I'd gotten in Italy still sticking out of it, marking the place I'd last abandoned it, and the decision was made. 2012 would be the year I'd get some of those eternally TBR books crossed off my list.

This past Saturday, I finally finished DESOLATION ANGELS, about 16 years after I picked it up for the very first time. Although it's no ON THE ROAD, I still really enjoyed it. Kerouac isn't for everybody, but a lot of what he says strikes a chord with me. And the end was a very fitting quote, considering my history with the book:

"A peaceful sorrow at home is the best I'll ever be able to offer the world, in the end, and so I told my Desolation Angels goodbye. A new life for me."

It was pretty cathartic to read those lines. It was almost as if the book and I were finally saying goodbye to each other. There's a new life (and book) waiting for me. As much as I enjoyed reading it, I enjoyed being able to cross it off my list just as much.

As you can see in the picture above of a few of the books on my eternal TBR list, other than James Joyce's ULYSSES, they're not all the most famous or prestigious books. They're just books I've always wanted to read, but for some reason have never gotten around to. I'm still going to read new books as they come out, but I'm also going to try to implement something I learned back at McDonald's all those years ago: FIFO, or First In, First Out. I want to get through those books that have been on my mind's bookshelf for years. There will be plenty to take their place, and I won't have to feel guilty every time I see those books gathering dust.

Am I alone in this? Hopefully I am, because I can't help but wonder a little about how and if my life (or at least approach to life) would have been different if I'd read this and other books years ago. But all I can do is move on and try to get them read. As Kerouac says in my favorite quote from the book, "Shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless and don't be sorry."

10 comments:

Jennifer Archer said...

I really enjoyed this post, Dan. And you're not alone. I also have "those books" I want to read, have started, stopped, but keep thinking about. One is THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath. You've just inspired me to find it again and finish it! By the way, I worked at McDonald's, too. From age 17 to 19. :-)

Jordan Dane said...

Wow, you had quite a history with that book, Dan. It must have left an impression on you years ago. I don't have a book like that. I used to be stubborn about finishing books, even if I had to skim, but these days I'm OK with not forcing it.

Sounds like Desolation Angels had something that kept it in your mind though.

Have you ever gone back (years later) to read books that you loved? Did they still hold up? My reading taste has changed. My attention span isnt what it used to be.

dan said...

Thanks Jennifer! I'm glad I'm not the only one. (or the only one to have worked at McD's :) I hope you get a chance to finish THE BELL JAR. I want to read that one day too...

It definitely did, Jordan. It's one of the few books that I hadn't finished even though I wanted to. (I've abandoned a few books here and there that I had no interest in finishing) I have to say it probably didn't have as profound an effect on me as it would have had I finished it years ago. My reading taste has changed too, and I've slowed down a bit as I've gotten older. I'm sure there are some books that wouldn't still hold up, but I can't think of any at the moment. But the movie Ladyhawke springs to mind. I loved that movie as a kid. I raved about it to my wife, then made her watch it and...yeah. Maybe if it lost the cheesy 80's soundtrack it would be more watchable :)

Sarah said...

I definitely have a list of books like this, and if I think about it too much, I get overwhelmed! But this post makes me want to stop my frantic multitasking for a weekend and sit down to read at least one of them. Thanks, Dan!

Jordan Dane said...

I could probably still watch LadyHawk but Mathew Broderick makes that iffy for me. I'll have to pay attention to the cheesy sound track. Ha!

I read a translation of 100 Years of Solitude (hope that title is right) as part of a book club. I loved it then, very atmospheric & magical. I've been afraid to reread it since my tastes have changed, but you've given me the spark to try.

Mandie Baxter said...

Haha...FIFO...remember that from Restaurant days. I have a large TBR & TBA (a for acquired). I have a lot of books I want to read but there are some I don't own that I need to find. Never seems enough time. Would love to be able to read 100 books in a year. last year I got to 60. We'll see this year. Lots of older books on the menu though

dan said...

Good luck Sarah! I hope you get a chance to read a book this weekend or sometime soon.

Good luck with the movie Jordan. It was better left to my memory :) I read 100 Years of Solitude last year for the first time and thought it was good, but I think I would have liked it better if I'd read it when I was younger. I wonder if it still holds up for you.

Haha. Yay for FIFO Mandie :) I also have a big TBA list. Too big, in fact. I need to start using the library more. To be honest, the 100 books included a fair amount of graphic novels, which were typically a quicker read. I don't think 100 novels would have been possible. But I'm still totally counting it!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

This brought back memories of my college Kerouac binge (it was Berkeley, what can I say?) I went through every single piece of his writing and some of those great recordings of him reading his own stuff. I've reread only a few of those books since, but sometimes you just have to do it ALL.

FIFO. Letters to live by...

Anita Grace Howard said...

Awesome post! And I'm the same way. In fact, I have yet to get through Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And that's just one example. There are several more on my bookshelf that are glaring at me as I type. Heh.

Love that final line of the book, and how it related to your relationship w/this story. Nice spiritual tie in. I like your depth, Dan. :)

dan said...

That's awesome Alexandra! I went through a ton of his stuff too. Really connected with his writings at that age. On the Road and Visions of Cody are the only ones I've read multiple times, but I'll keep reading On the Road my whole life. Love that book. And yes, so many things are better with FIFO :)

Thank you Anita! I love the last line and how it fit. It was definitely a cool experience to get through it. Hopefully you get some time to make those books stop glaring at you :) I listened to an audiobook of Frankenstein. Not sure if it counts or not, but you might have to go that route. (It's really good, btw)