The happiness of always having a good book to read.

One of my favorite happiness-project resolutions is to “Focus on books,” with the sub-resolution, “Read better.”

To that end, I’ve become much more diligent about keeping a list of “Books to Read.”

There are a million books I want to read, but sometimes when I’m most desperate for a suggestion, I go blank.

Keeping this list has been surprisingly satisfying. Just this morning, I was in the library and craving a new book – but what? I checked my list and remembered that a friend had said that Sam Walker’s Fantasyland was terrific. Bingo. Ten minutes later, it was in my bag.

Actually, I’m already half-way through the novel on my bedside table, but it’s slow going. This novel, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, is what I call a “blocking book.” I want to read it, but because I don’t quite enjoy reading it, it’s blocking my reading progress.

I’ve been meaning to read The Pilgrim’s Progress for a long time – say, about seventeen years. And I’ve owned it for a while – about nine years. At last I’m reading it.

Given the subject and structure, The Pilgrim’s Progress should have been one of the first books I tackled for my happiness-project research. Also, one of my favorite writers of all time, Samuel Johnson, was a huge fan of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Now I’m reading it, and it’s one of those books that I find simultaneously fascinating and boring. If I didn’t like it at all, I could just stop reading. But I do find it fascinating. Also boring. That’s why it’s a blocking book.

So I’m going to alternate with Fantasyland.

My “Books to Read” list also has a special list of “emergency book” ideas: names of books that are so widely available that if I’m in a tiny airport bookstore, and have only five minutes to grab a book, I will see something I want. I never allow myself to read this book until such an emergency arises.

For a long time, my emergency book was Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Then it was Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Now it’s Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters.

Zoikes, I just discovered Futility Closet. These kinds of sites are dangerous, because once I start reading, I can’t stop, and pretty soon two hours have passed.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I love Stephen King’s advice on books. Consider it like a pump. If after 10 or 20% of priming it you aren’t getting significant payback, stop reading it (usually about 100 pages).
    Interesting idea of the blocking book. I usually find if I’m reading a book like this it’s usually because I feel like I have to instead of want to read it.

  • I hesitate to mention this, as you may curse me later, but if you’re a true book geek, you have to get a librarything account and catalogue all your books.
    Yes, I spent a month last summer doing just that.

  • Great News! I have an excellent book choice, just a tiny little (e)Book. You can read it in a flash, and hopefully it’s eaqually ‘enlightning’ 🙂 You can the Book and a FREE Preview via my Blog.

  • Ok, I am now addicted to Futility Closet.
    It’s funny, when I first read through your post I misread The Pilgrim’s Progress as “The Way of the Pilgrim,” which I just finished reading a month ago.
    I think both “Pilgrims” share the same nature. They are both unbelievably boring books, yet you feel compelled to read them because just at the point when you have had enough and you are ready to toss them in the garbage, they rope you back in by giving you a tiny little taste of what they are _really_ all about. And then you’re hooked.
    Reading them is like panning for gold.

  • Clark L is another good book site.

  • The only reason Pilgrim’s Progress is read is for the mild historical curiosity it sates. It was really the first novel ever, and was a megahit in its day. Other than the lovely tribulation of “The Slough of Despond,” it was pure drudgery for me, but I had to read it. You don’t. I suspect it won’t contribute to your happiness quotient, except in a castor oil sort of way. Read Confederacy of Dunces or somesuch and really have some happiness.

  • I like the whole Happiness Project. The life is about search for moments, things, people that will give You the feeling of happiness. I got interested with the taoistic philosophy some time ago and its simplicity appeals to me strongly. I try to mix it with my own life philosophy of Healthy Selfishness, as I believe You can make others happy only if you find your own space and inner peace.
    As for the books, I also do the list of books I MUST read and the list of those I already read (the same with movies).
    The Futility Closet is really engrossing.

  • May I suggest a fascinating and brief classic: Flatland- a romance of many dimentions. What you describe in this blog about tasting happiness and then working on it builds on the great analogy put forward in the book that we need to live in specific realities in order to understand them. Very very fun 1-2 hours read.

  • NTE

    I love the idea of a ‘blocking-book;’ it so perfectly describes that one book that lingers longest by my bedside. It’s not that the book isn’t interesting, or even good (those books are called ‘required reading,’ and I don’t do them anymore), it just – for whatever reason – stalls. And I know I want to finish it… but maybe I’ll just peek at this book first, or see what some of my old favorites are up to in the meantime. My ‘blocking books’ are usually non-fiction, and can stick around for months, patiently waiting for me to come back to them.
    I also have an emergency read in my purse (The Secret Garden, also good for reading aloud to young children in the hopes of distracting them for short periods of time); a TBR pile the size of aformentioned-young child; a TBR List that takes up an entire folder on my computer & two IRL notebooks (It seems like there’s always a book somebody wants to tell you about, and my memory without writing things down? Horrid.); and 4-5 books I am currently reading. (I use & recommend both Library Thing & Good Reads, as far as organizing goes.)
    So, it’s nice to know that other people may be as obsessive about books as I am.