The One and the Many

One hundred books

This year I decided I would try to read one hundred books. The past few years I have been hovering around 30-40 so this is a big jump.

Why did I decide this? Mostly because I want to read more. I spend a lot of time that I consider wasted. While time you enjoy is not wasted is a common aphorism and I can understand it, I often feel I could be more productive and grow more if I read more and spent less time on other things. This decision lets me focus on being productive.

Another reason came from a book I was reading at the start of the year: Curious by Ian Leslie. It made me excited about learning. One of the things I got from this book was that it does not matter so much what you learn as long as you are learning. I want to keep my mind exercised and know a lot broadly.

Why 100? Basically an arbitrary and nice round number. It is very arbitrary after all as no two books are alike, either in length nor in ease of consumption. If I chose to read 100 bubble gum scifi fantasy books I could do this quite easily, but I don't intend to cheat in that way. I'll stick to my usual reads.

How am I doing on this? So far I am behind. It's the end of the first month of the year and so far I have completed six books. I need to complete about two books a week, or about 8 books a month. I am two short this month.

It does mean I essentially have to always be reading in my spare time. Either that or try to pick shorter books. I promised myself I would not let this idea influence the books or length of books I choose to read, but as I have started falling behind I've tried to pick books that are a bit quicker reads to catch back up. Even so I am behind. I just do not have enough time. This does not mean I am going to give up. At least not yet.

The books I've read so far, in order, are:

Curious by Ian Leslie: I already mentioned what I liked from this book. It gave me a great sense of excitement about learning and reading again.

On the Map by Simon Garfield: This was an exploration of what maps mean to humanity starting from their very beginnings. You get the feeling before you open it that what really could fill a book about such a topic? But there is a surprising complexity when you delve into the subject. People have dedicated their lives to maps and specialized in them. It shows the complexity of anything.

Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor: This is about the Irish famine and in particular a boat travelling to America. It is really about the squalor of the poor and how ill treated they are and were. It filled me with a lot of sympathy for Ireland that I have not really had. It coincided with me getting interested in learning Gaelic as the language plays a prominent role. Several of the characters speak it as their first language and some English only poorly.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr: Any book by Vonnegut I find has a similar tone. Whimsical and treating human life as profoundly amusing. This is no different. I particularly liked the idea of the religion in this book, Bokononism. It is a bit of a parody religion but it ends up making a lot of sense. One of the characters says to the main character when he is acting diffident that "it is impossible to make a mistake" which really stuck with me. The idea that you should not worry so much and that it does not matter in the end, and what will happen will happen no matter what. Sort of giving up responsibility, but also a decision to not dwell and worry.

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe: This is an odd little book where a man goes on a holiday to the sea shore and ends up being captured by villagers and forced to work at the bottom of a pit shovelling sand around. The man for most of the novel comes across as very egotistical and superior to everyone and thinks he will soon escape, but ends up failing each time. At the end of the book he has accepted his fate and when the opportunity to leave presents, he chooses to leave the pit for a few minutes, and then voluntarily return. He ends up preferring his simple life in the sand.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger: Having only read The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger previously this was a surprise. The book consists of two related stories about two children that were brought up with a very religious and spiritual education. They are prodigies but given their upbringing their worldview is coloured by spiritual ideas. One is having a nervous breakdown caused by thinking she is superior to all and that almost everyone else is wrong and odious. She begins to take refuge in a prayer. It ends up being a lesson in patience. That one should not take umbrage at the behaviour or ideals of others and instead worry about your own soul. Something that stuck with me is the need to not have desires. To be calm. To focus on the journey and the work rather than the results of your labours or where you end up.