In my living room, there is a low bookshelf that stands below the windows. The bottom shelf is given over to a basket of yarn, a basket of cat toys, and space for my cat Mina to sit. The top shelf is also Mina’s to enjoy, though a small stack of history books is on one end. But the middle shelf is devoted entirely to books I meant to read in 2021.
Thirty-two books are on that shelf. Another forty-seven are scattered around the apartment on various other shelves, and an additional 128 titles are rusticating on my StoryGraph To Be Read pile. I didn’t buy or add all of these books to my various shelves in 2021, but at some point this year, I intended to read every last one of them. And then I didn’t.
There are many reasons for this. I was stressed out enough thanks to world news and work that I didn’t want to face the darkness of Young-Ha Kim’s Black Flower. I was never quite in the mood for The Brothers York, Thomas Penn’s 688-page history of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, even though the subject fascinates me. Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest always managed to disappear into the background, almost like it was trying to live up to its namesake. Charlotte Brontë’s Villette was twice superseded by other long books that popped up and needed to be read first. I fully intend to read Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings once the publication date for the fourth book in his Dandelion Dynasty series comes a little closer. I simply didn’t get to Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book or Magda Szabó’s Iza’s Ballad. The list goes on.
I could be upset about the books I didn’t get to this year. I could castigate myself for letting Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener languish on my shelves for yet another year. But I won’t. The books don’t care if they get a little more dust on them, or if I glance past them and reach for something else. They are as constant as anything can be in this world of ours, and unless something wildly unexpected happens, they will wait patiently for me to finally get around to pulling them off the shelves and giving them a shot.
Besides. It’s not like I haven’t been doing other things this year. As of this writing, I have completed 173 other books and enjoyed most of them. I wrote another novel, sewed a bunch of things, took a few thousand more photographs, went for long walks, listened to wonderful music, saw some fantastic movies, stopped to watch dozens of sunsets, many snowstorms and thunderstorms, and started visiting friends and family again after being relatively isolated for more than a year. I did plenty of things in 2021.
December is the time of the year when we tend to look both backward and forward. We reflect on the year that is dying and anticipate the year that is coming. We develop our ‘Best of the Year’ and ‘Worst of the Year’ lists and come up with resolutions or plans for the future with all the optimism in the world. “Next year,” we say, ” is the year I’ll do All The Things and read all the books I’ve been meaning to get to”.
Perhaps it’s naive for us to do this. I think it’s also wonderful, like we’re staring down a brand new year and declaring “You’re going to be better than last year”, like thinking can make it so.
So as I look at all the unread books on my shelves and sort through the myriad titles on my To Be Read pile, I don’t regret the books I didn’t read. They’re still there, waiting for me, fully aware that I will add more books to that list as 2022 wears on. And someday, I will get around to all of them. Or most of them. Or maybe only some of them.
My apartment is full of books, many of which are unread. Those seventy-eight unread books will soon be joined by a flock of other unread titles once Christmas comes and goes. They will find their own places on the shelves, and I may get around to reading them in 2022.
But no matter how many books get added to my TBR on top of the 207 that are already there, I can be sure of one thing: I will never run out of things to read. And that is a happy thought I will carry into 2022, no matter what it brings.