For someone like me who is predisposed to rigid thinking, a to-be-read list can morph into something more complicated. At some point, my list was no longer a quick reference when I reached The End of one story and wanted to start another. I added titles faster than I could read them, so the list grew unreasonably long. This is where my unyielding thoughts kicked in: well, it’s on the list, so I’ve got to read it! I found some reprieve from this thinking by listening to titles on my list that were available on CD at my library. That plan struck two targets with one arrow: I worked my way through my list AND thought less about my 90-minute round trip commute to and from work.
I noticed that when it was time to select my next choice whether it was on paper or on the stack on my shelf, there were titles I kept not selecting. In the past few years and sped up by so much time spent at home, I decided to confront that stack: I finally had to read it and cross it off the list, or try it and give it up. Either way, by the end of the year, that pile would be whittled down. Making a game of my rigidity worked. The next year, I attacked the next pile.
While I was reading my way through those languishing stacks, I discovered some real gems in the midst of what I had avoided for so long. I had been hesitant to pick up The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold because the plot focused on a young teen’s abduction and murder, and the way her family dealt with the devastation of losing a child and sister. The author rendered the story so beautifully; I could not put it down. I received Lady Catherine, The Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey as a gift during the height of the show’s popularity. For some reason, I got it in my head that the story would be dry and dull. Again, I could not have been more wrong. The Countess of Carnarvon brought the lives of that historical home to life. Reading, enjoying, and moving these books along built momentum to clear more books from my shelf.
Then, during lockdown, I started buying more books as an act of supporting independent bookstores, and again, my pile grew. Somewhere along the way, I realized I was reading interesting work, and that maybe I did not need a reading list anymore. I have come to terms with the fact that there will never be time to read everything I want, so why not trust that interesting reading will continue, and let the books come to me?
In this spirit, I found The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain from the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room on Instagram. It is a slim volume translated from French, and it took me to the streets of Paris again. I was so charmed by the way the translator was able to evoke its “Frenchness” with the English language, that I sought out two of his other novels after I finished The Red Notebook. If I had stuck to my list, I would have missed out on this French adventure, and the reminder of why I had been so enamored by all things French as a teenager. It was a double dose of time travel.
Over the years, I have recognized the serendipitous way the universe speaks to me, comforts me, and nudges me forward by the books that land in my lap. I trust the mysterious power, and am excited to see what other adventures await me without my reading list to guide my next selection.