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Mindful Book Consumption

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I am continually fascinating by the way ancient or no longer spoken languages affect modern English. If you follow me on social media, you know how much I love to pick apart Chaucer’s Middle English for words we no longer use, like grutch (which really needs to come back because I, for one, grutch on a regular basis) or talk about how there was no word for the color orange, so Chaucer used yellow-red to describe foxes.

Today, we will be going further back than Chaucer to Old English. I can already hear my students gasp and say, “You mean Chaucer isn’t Old English.” No! It gets even harder to read. Think Beowulf or runes and you’re close to where I want you to be. In Old English, the word for library is “bochard” or literally “book hoard.” It conjures up images of monasteries with books chained to the shelves because they are so valuable or a dragon sitting atop a pile of books.

If you’re an avid reader, you may feel a little twinge of shame or guilt. Are there piles of books stacked in your room? Do you have a to-be-read list that will take you several decades to get through? Do you take out stacks of books from the library that require a hand-cart to move? Do you buy books faster than you read them? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be a book hoarder.

Book hoarders often go hand-in-hand with my previous post about mindless book consumption. In this case, that consumption is usually based around acquiring books, especially more than you can read in a given time frame. If you’re a book hoarder and trying to slow down your buying or at least pair it down to more meaningful purchases, this post will talk about what I did to break the cycle of excessive book buying.

Book buying was a major problem I had during grad school. At the time, I was reading and writing a lot for class and not doing much outside of my schoolwork. I was also stressed out fro my course load and other duties. This led to me buying A LOT of books in a 2.5 year period. Books are fairly inexpensive, especially if you’re willing to buy used books or look for sales, and I was willing to do what I could to score a deal for a book I wanted. Less money spent = less guilt = more books. You can see how this became a problem. When I entered my last semester of grad school, I only had three classes, one of which I completed the work for by the middle of the semester, and I finally had time to read for myself. I looked around my room and panicked. When the hell had I bought so many books?!

To read them all felt like a monumental task, but last year, I decided to start tackling my to-be-read pile in earnest. By the end of 2017, I had read 120 works (including novels, graphic novels, and a few short stories), and I attribute my success in knocking a hunk out of my to-be-read pile to a habit I got into in 2016: using a bullet journal. A bullet journal is basically a DIY planner where you can keep track of your to-do lists and whatever other charts you need. Staring at my massive to-be-read pile, I decided something had to be done, so I created a to-be-read spread in my bullet journal to help keep track of what I had along with what I read and when. You can see my 2018 to-be-read spread below.

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This spread encompasses several pages (5 to be exact with a blank page that isn’t pictured just in case I need more room). What I did was break my book pile into several groups. The first page consists of graphic novel series I’m reading, nonfiction works, and standalones. The last two tend to be smaller categories for me, so it made sense to put them together. The other three pages are series and authors with more than one book that I’m hoping to get to read. I group series together as much as possible. You may have noticed some blank spaces. Those are for books that I’m aware are coming out from an author I like but don’t have a title yet. Not every book in my massive list is actually available or in my collection. Many are coming out next year or are on pre-order, so I include them as a place holder for next year’s journal. Next to certain books, you’ll notice color blocks. Those indicate what month the book was read. Yellow is January, pink if February, and green is March. I fill them in after I finish reading them.

This system helps me stay focused on knocking out what I already have. I like ticking off boxes on my to-do list, and my to-be-read list is like a massive, year-long to-do list. If you’re the kind of person who feels at least some fulfillment from crossing things off a list, then this may work for you. It also acts as an inventory of my library, so I can keep track of what series are on-going versus done and what books I didn’t love and might want to donate later.

As I get new books, I add them to my list to keep it current, but this system alone probably won’t stop you from acquiring new books. I certainly haven’t stopped, but seeing how many I have has helped me to step back and ask some important questions. Do I need it now? Can I wait to buy it? Why do I want it? When will I get to it?

What I’ve also implemented is a self-imposed rule that I can only buy half as many books as I read the previous month. Last year, I told myself as many as I read, which was a mistake because I read twelve in January and there was no way I was giving myself license to buy twelve books. I consider it to be a rolling total of how many books I can buy. This doesn’t include freebies I find online or books borrowed from others.

I know I will never stop buying books, but it’s clear that I had to be more aware of how many of those books I was actually reading. To recap, here are some ways to tackle your to-be-read pile:

  1. Inventory your library to determine what books you have yet to read.
  2. Donate unwanted books or books you didn’t really like (especially ones you know you’ll never go back to) to keep them from piling up.
  3. Make a list of books you have to read and make a point to read from that list rather than just buying new books.
  4. Before you buy a book, ask yourself why you’re buying it. If it’s an impulse buy, you may want to put it back for now (I use the Goodreads phone app to catalog books I might buy in the future or you can just take a picture of it).

I hope these tips help you wrangle your to-be-read pile into shape!

Let me know what you think below or how you keep your to-be-read pile in check.

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