The Funny Thing About Non-Fiction

books

I’ve had a really literary few days and I’ve finished ALL FOUR of the fiction books I have been mid-way through reading for years. Hurrah! Which means fiction-wise, I just have a couple knocking around the house to decide on and then I’m back to a completely fresh start. I’ve already been gathering ideas and recommendations so I have a nice selection to chose from next time I want to start a story.

Yesterday then, I gave some serious thought to my non-fiction books. I have a LOT of them – especially in ebook format. And many of them (most of them?) I have read the first third or half, and then not carried on.

There are two reasons for this, and it’s down to the type of books that I buy, which tend to be along the lines of self-improvement (parenting, assertiveness, diet, productivity, how-to books etc.):

1. Non-fiction books of this type tend to require you to take action of some sort. You know, make lists, practise things, organise things – and I get stuck because I stop reading to fulfil the actions, but I don’t fulfil the actions, and therefore I never get around to really “working” through the book.

2. Sometimes I stop reading simply because owning the book (and not having read all of it) means that I own the potential to change, in the way that I want to change. If I read it, and don’t change, I have failed. And given how badly I do on instigating action items from books (as per point 1), owning the potential seems like a better thing than reading and failing to fulfil that potential. Which of course, is madness.

So, I’ve decided to approach non-fiction in a different way. I’m going to select a non-fiction book, and read the whole thing. Cover to cover. I’m not going to stop to work through exercises, or attempt to change the way I do things before I get to the end.

Instead I’m going to highlight parts that I think are relevant and summarise what I want to take away, when I’ve finished the whole thing. Then I have at least digested the book, even if I never do anything that it says to do.

I have this terrible fear of losing information. Of not remembering something that might be crucial to me at some point in my life, which of course is also madness. No one can remember every word of every book they read.

So, I’ll try this new approach, and see if I can actually start finishing these books that I buy and then leave on the shelf to gather dust.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

The Joy of Reading

reading

Over the last year, I’ve started reading more than I have done for a long, long time. Importantly, I’ve started reading more fiction. I used to devour fiction regularly when I was younger – I LOVE a good story. And it’s no coincidence that I’ve started writing more in the last year too. I love to write, and I love to read, and the two go hand in hand.

I’ve always had this idea in my head that one day I would have just one book that I really wanted to read at a time, instead of dozens that I am so-so about. That I would have no unread books at home, and going to the library or book shop would be a chance to slowly browse the shelves, looking for that one story that I could totally immerse myself in for the next week or two.

Instead, my reading tends to be haphazard – more now than ever before. I tallied up all my fiction books and I have four on my shelf waiting to be read, and four that I am currently reading – one of which I started over three years ago.

This is symbolic of how fragmented my life has become: I jump into things and never finish them, with something else always vying for my attention and drawing me away. My choice of books has been unconsidered, which means I tend to start them, feel disillusioned and then don’t finish them.

And those books that are unfinished – they are mental baggage, mental to-dos. I feel guilty for not finishing them. Sometimes, I even stop reading a book that I really like, and it sits for months before I pick it up again, because I have been distracted by some life event, or some general busy-ness and I forgo taking that time for myself, allowing myself the pleasure of reading.

I want to change my relationship with books to something simpler. I want to have more focus, on just one book at a time – and not any old book. A book I have chosen because I truly want to read it.

So, I’m going to finish those four book that I’ve been (not) reading all this time. I’m going to decide if I want to read the other four that are still sat on the shelf. I’m going to clear the decks and establish better reading habits. I’m going to seek out authors I love and find stories that speak to me.

I’ve updated my Goodreads account so I can keep a record of what I like and don’t like, in my quest to find more books that I truly LOVE, rather than constantly reading stuff that I am really just not that bothered about.

I’m reinstating and elevating fiction in my life!

Decluttering Children’s Books

children's books

I’m working my way up to the toy situation. I really am at a loss as to how to deal with it.

I can safely say that the boys’ toy collection is currently the largest group of stuff in our house. Way beyond anything me or Mr Tech own.

Since I’m still pondering the best way to approach a simpler, less toy-driven environment (which I think will be good for us and the children), instead I did a mild sort through of their books.

I say mild because neither of them can read yet, they both love books – really love them – and we read every day, so I didn’t want to be too harsh.

Basically anything that we hadn’t read more than a couple of times went. Along with anything that I really didn’t like reading.

In addition to the books on the three shelves in the picture, they also have a small collection in their bedroom.

I’m not going to be able to put the toys off for much longer…!

Total out

29 items

Ongoing total out

649 items!

Paring Down My Books

declutter books

I’ve started on my books.

Without too much trouble I picked out some I have read which in all honesty I am probably not going to read again (note the second baby survival guide, ha ha).

I kept them all because I thought I would re-read them, but a quick flick through didn’t make me want to sit down and read them right now, so they can go.

I also recycled a 2013 A5 diary that I found on the bookshelf, which I have never used.

Total out today

10 items

Ongoing total

229 items!

 

[UPDATE]

Later that day I had another look through and donated another 15 books, making 25 in total, so:

Ongoing total

244 items!

The Time Cost of My Book Collection

decluttering books

I have always, always loved to read.

Minimalism is something I find hard to apply to books (although I’m better than I was).

So I thought I’d try a dose of realism instead.

In this post I have attempted to calculate the hours of time that it would actually take for me to read every book I own.

I’ve used some rough and ready figures here for a super-quick estimate:

FICTION (13 books)

Assume 300 pages, 45 seconds to read a page. 3hrs 45mins per book.

NON FICTION (92 books)

As fiction. They take a little longer to read and digest (in my opinion), but often have a lot more whitespace. 3hrs 45mins per book.

REFERENCE (12 books)

No time factor here. They just sit on the shelf.

TECHNICAL (32 books)

I am a programmer and my technical books are hands-on, example driven, practical manuals that are designed to teach concepts that take time to understand and learn. Assume 24hrs of reading/practical application time per book.

COOKERY (32 books)

Assume the average book has 100 recipes.

What my collection represents in personal time

Fiction, non-fiction and technical reading time: 1161.75 hours

Cookery books: One new recipe a day for 8 years and 8 months.

Given that I probably cook a new recipe once a fortnight (if that), my cookery book collection should last me for 122.7 years.

Given that I manage to read for maybe 2 hours a week if I’m lucky, my book collection should provide enough reading material for the next 11.1 years.

Seriously!!

And how often do I buy a new book on a whim??

If I made a resolution to not buy any more books until I’d read everything I owned, it would be over a decade before I could even look at anything else.

And that’s not even including my Kindle books and various eBooks.

Now admittedly, not everything on my bookshelf is unread – so those figures would be reduced somewhat – but it is still astonishing to think that what I own has already taken up that much of my future time (even subconsciously from just having all those books in view).

I think it might be time to prioritise the books I really want to read.

Of course, I want to read all of them (hence why I own them), but do I really want to commit the next 11 years to these particular books? I think there will probably be many other books that catch my eye over the next decade.

They aren’t ornaments. If they aren’t being used, then why have them all on a shelf year after year?

Minimalising my books needs to be a two pronged attack of:

  1. Reading more.
  2. Being more selective about what I read.

I have a vision of only owning a handful of books that I am actively using.

Book-nirvana.

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