So, after reading this column for a few weeks, you might be asking yourself, “Why is this Drew fellow doing this? Why would a full-grown man be taking up his valuable time reading and reviewing books that have already been published? He’s not trying to convince me to buy them, is he?” True, the books I’m reading are (mostly) not new, and it’s not like publishers have me on their book-sending contacts list (though a full-grown man can dream!). So why am I doing this?
The answer is complicated. One reason is that I’ve just graduated with my Master of Fine Arts degree, and I’m fighting the urge to veg out on the couch for the next few months (most of the time doing it unsuccessfully, thank you), which means I need to keep sharp through reading and writing. Reading a book a week is very doable, and writing a few hundred words a week is still writing something, so this column is a way of me getting my mental exercise. I’m trying to prevent my brain from atrophying. (I learned that last word from a book.)
Another reason is that I need to get out of my literary bubble. I’m not bragging when I say that my novel collection is extensive (and growing, if you ever want to get me a gift; I hear Nick Hornby has a new book out), but I always seem to gravitate toward the same set of writers. I have hundreds of writers on my shelves that I’ve never read, and maybe I’ve become a bit stunted in my habits. Who wants to be stunted? There’s nothing worse than people who limit themselves, whether that’s in the genres of books they read, or the foods they eat, or the places they go on vacation. Okay, I’m sure there are worse things, but not any that I can think of at the moment.
Do you want another reason? Okay, I’ll give you one. Reading these books, and jotting down notes about them, is making me more careful and observant. Not all of you know me, but those of you who do know that writing is a huge part of my life. What’s more important to a writer than being observant? I don’t know. Okay, maybe grammar is more important, but that’s what editors are for, and you can pay people to do that job. If you can find someone who is paid good money to observe things for other people, give me that person’s number and I’ll call him or her and make them feel really strange with how much I beg them to give me a job.
One more reason? Fine. What about the sheer joy of introducing other people to books they haven’t read yet? What if I find a book that has gone unnoticed for a long time, and I just have to tell you about it, and it ends up changing your life?
Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’ve been avoiding these books for a reason: mainly that they’re either boring or awful. But at least I will be able to say that I’ve read them, which should count for something in conversations at cocktail parties. Not that I ever actually get invited to cocktail parties.
So here are the rules. I’ll start in the A section of my shelves and work my way alphabetically through my books, reading a representative book by each author I’ve never read. Along the way I’ll pass books that I’ve already read, and I’ll mention them to you, either for good or bad. If I have other information about any of the authors I pass—what the heck, I’ll throw that in, too. I’ll view this as a quest, the object of which will be to find whether I actually should have read these books by now or not.
And there have to be worse quests than the one to become well read. Right?