When it comes to different types of lists created to spark the imagination and inspire people, lists of books to read has to fall some place in the top five. While it seems like there must be so many more things people go to for entertainment these days than books, it also seems like readers, by their nature, are passionate about sharing their passions. Whereas say, the percentage of music lovers willing to read lists of great songs (as opposed to listening to them) or the percentage of TV viewers willing to read lists of great shows (as opposed to watching them), it may be that because readers read, they also assume other readers will want read … their lists. In any case, it seems like every medium for reading — from social media to online magazines to print periodicals, and even books themselves, can offer examples of lists of books to read.
When it comes to problems I have with lists created to spark the imagination and inspire creativity, one of this biggest ones I have is that they’re usually too long for me to ever finish. Take that 52 week photography challenge I shared on my blog. It seems like a great concept, and very doable. Make the commitment to complete one creative project a week, and stick with it. In 52 weeks, you’re set.
I’m at week 4, and I’ve gotten through two of the creative prompts with my writing. It’s fun. I still hope to get through more. But let’s face it. Life draws you in so many different directions. In the intervening weeks between discovering that list and taking it on, new ideas have sparked my imagination. I write for fun. I’m not going to dump an exciting creative idea just because I committed to some list I found one afternoon in January. That list is something I’ll go back to when I don’t have anything better to do, but at the same time, not finishing it makes me feel vaguely disappointed with myself, and with the list. Why did it need to be 52 weeks long? Isn’t that just a set up? A clever sounding device to catch your attention.
With book lists, it’s easy to get caught up in this “More is Better” attitude. 100 Greatest War Novels. 50 Timeless Adventures. 144 Books about Being 12.
But really, who has time to read 50 timeless adventure books. I’m an avid reader, and in my dream job, I wake up at 5 in the morning, read from 7 until 4 each day, and get a pay check for doing it. With a real job and a family I go through 40 to 50 books a year. But 50 books about adventure? There’s no way I read 50 books about any one topic in a year’s time. A few years ago, I went on a binge of books about Arctic exploration and read 6 books by Arctic explorers. While you could say a person might use a list of 50 books on a topic like that 52 week challenge — going back to it in the absence of other choices, it’s just not likely that I’ll keep that, or any, list of 50 things around long enough to make it worth keeping.
I love lists for the sense of possibilities, but at the same time, a sense of accomplishment feels nice.
Which is why so appreciate the “less-is-more” economy of the lists collected in NPR’s “Three Books” project.
Is it a list of books to read, or a list of reasons to read?
The beauty of this list of lists, is that it’s both.
You can think of a list of books as being a little like a museum. Here’s a collection of titles. You tour the museum. You explore the titles. Maybe you love them, maybe you don’t. If the list is too long, you feel overwhelmed. You’re left wondering if you made the right choices, hoping you didn’t miss anything
If a book list is like a museum, then the “Three Books” project has some clearly titled galleries. Imagine each of these titles starts with the phrase “Three books to…” Light Your Fire On Valentine’s Day. Send Yourself Flying. Get You Through a Mid-Life Crisis. On Nordic Summer. Ok, for that last one, substitute On for To. That’s just a sample.
The point is, it’s as much a list of reasons to read as it is a list of books. And each list is small. I can read three books on nordic summers, or three new wave sci-fi thrillers. I can do that without getting sick of the topic, or forgetting about the list. And yet, the project itself is such a long list of reasons to read, it only adds to all the other reasons I have to read. It sparks my imagination for both why to read and what to read. And when I get to a list I like, I can get through it and feel like I’ve accomplished something.
Without needing to feel like I have to cross the accomplishment off my list. After all, who can’t use another sci-fi thriller?