I don’t remember exactly when I started The List. Guessing just based on the content, probably sometime about five years ago, when it became obvious that the inside of my head just wasn’t doing it any more. But bits of it are older than that, of course; some of it goes back probably decades. The To-Read List.
You know how knitters and other crafty people talk about SABLE, Stash Amassed Beyond Life Expectancy? I think I’ve had that for books since I was about twelve. And people keep writing new ones, damn them! I’ll never be caught up. But, in aid of trying to keep the process of attempting to catch up somewhat manageable, I created The List.
It started out life as a text file, but by now it’s blossomed into a whole Evernote notebook. I have notes for reading lists on
specific topics, notes for recommendations from people I particularly enjoy, notes for texts that are impossible to find that I’ll dig up if I ever have a spare afternoon in the Bodleian. The core of The List, though, is three notes: Books Not Checked Yet, Books Not Readily Available, and Madison Public Library.
Books Not Checked Yet is the first stop for new titles I come across. I see them in the bookstore, I hear about them through a mailing list, I read someone’s review on a blog, and I copy the title and author into my Not Checked Yet note. Then sometime when I have time I’ll start plugging titles into the library catalog. My book budget, you see, really only stretches to books I already know I want to own, new titles from a favorite author or collections of older ones. (Plus part of that budget is for the shelves – I’ve crammed as many bookshelves as possible into my tiny apartment, and my roommate will stage a rebellion if I try to add any more. So I check the library first.)
It’s a simple sort: books the library has go onto the Madison Public Library list. I’d say about 90% of the books I find and want to read are either in the catalog or listed as on order. Books not in the catalog go onto the Books Not Readily Available list. Every once in a while, I sort through the Not Readily Available list to see if the library’s bought them or if there’s anything I really want to buy to read. Out of print books go on a PDA so I have them ready for my regular visits to used bookstores.
The only thing I put on The List is title and author. I usually don’t even bother with a subtitle, so there’s a lot on there I can’t even remember what it is, never mind where I heard of it or why I put it on there. Sometimes I request a book from the library, expecting it to be a novel, and end up with nonfiction. Sometimes I expect historical analysis and get historical fantasy. It’s a delightful exercise in randomness, actually; I dread the thought of The List growing small enough that I lose that element of surprise.
I recently numbered the Madison Public Library list. It currently contains 323 books. The number is constantly fluctuating as I add books and read books, but it grows more than it shrinks. (It went down by two last week, when I checked out Who Killed Wesley Payne and Don DeLillo’s Libra, but it went up by six when I went through my newsletters: Susanne Dunlap, The Musician’s Daughter; Mary Hooper, Fallen Grace; Jillian Larkin, Vixen; Ying S. Lee, A Spy in the House; Carol McCleary, The Alchemy of Murder; and Saundra Mitchell, The Vespertine.)
The List isn’t everything, of course. It doesn’t include books I own, either purchased or received as gifts. It doesn’t include books I know I want to read and won’t forget about, like the new Elizabeth Bear or the last five Nero Wolfe novels I haven’t gotten to yet. It doesn’t include the egalleys I’ve started getting, or the audiobooks I’ve downloaded. But it’s huge, which gives it a certain precedence. (I mean, it’s not as huge as The Shelf, but it’s pretty substantial.)
All of which is to say, if you start seeing reviews with the source listed as The List — now you know.