A couple of years ago I rashly vowed, not to God but to the internet, that I wouldn’t buy any more books until I’d read the ones I already owned.

I say “rashly” because, as I’ve learned over the last two years, the acquisition of books and the reading of books are separate and distinct activities, driven by different motives, involving different processes, and governed by different rhythms. [With observation comes wisdom.]

They’re related, clearly; the acquisition of books exploits the pleasure or purpose associated with reading books, so that the reader, rather than the non-reader, feels drawn by the “promise of happiness” in that armload of books, carried like an infant to the check-out counter of the bookstore.

Nevertheless, reading those books depends less on attraction than on commitment. Reading those books calls for spending quality time with them, forbidding interruptions and distractions and the electronic lures of checking email or updating the blog or watching the latest Netflix original, giving the text sustained attention and engagement, making it a priority.

We might feel tempted to say reading is more like marriage.

Though honestly, I think reading is more like actually making salad with the lettuce and other assorted vegetables that looked so fresh and tasty and wholesome in the produce section, but which, on any average weeknight, look so unready, so demanding of more time-consuming preparation than is available this moment, compared to whatever side dish can be popped in the microwave next.

Books, thankfully, don’t spoil when stored. Otherwise, I’d need to clean the office more often. But the dissymmetry implies that reducing the size of the book stacks by actually reading the books will not happen spontaneously, in due course. It will require decision and purposeful action.

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Last year I set a goal of “dynamic homeostasis:” read at least as many books as I add to the tsundoku.

I didn’t think much of it. I thought it would be easy. I thought “I read a lot – at least that much.”

As the end of the year approached, however, it occurred to me: I have the data. I can see how well I did. It turns out that dynamic homeostasis was a more challenging goal than I realized.

When I tallied up the numbers, they showed this: in 2019, I added 45 books to the stacks. I removed [by reading] 24.

I clearly have some adjustments to make. Read faster. Spend slower. Or both.

So, the tsundoku won this round.

But 2020 is a whole new year.

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“Dynamic homeostasis,” by the way, qualifies as a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, – that is, it matters to me, and it will make a visible difference to my desk-top – and Time-bound.

The experts on New Year’s Resolution keeping recommend setting this kind of goal. First, when something is specific and measurable, you’ll (a) know when it’s done and (b) have a harder time kidding yourself that you’ve done it when you haven’t. Together, (a) and (b) give you a better chance of actually accomplishing the specific, measurable thing you’ve set out to accomplish. Second, an achievable goal has some motivational advantages; knowing you could do it, if you applied the time and the effort to do it, makes it possible to say things to yourself like “OK, you can do this” and mean it, and believe it. It’s like achievable goals come with encouragement built in. Relevant because – well, why set a goal you don’t care about, that doesn’t matter to you? Finally, time-bound because if there’s no deadline at all, it’s easy never to get started, and consequently, never to get finished.

SMART goals, then, are supposed to be more likely to be met. I’m hoping those odds will work in my favor on the “Read Me” Project.

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interior of a hollow tower of stacked books
Learning need never end.