The Completist

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As I get older, it only becomes more and more clear I will never read all the books I want to read before I die. There’s just no getting around it. There’s too many books! Even my Amazon Wish List, aka my Amazon “Don’t Want To Read That Much So I Will Put You On This Pointless List” List is swelling at over 300.

This is tough for me, because I’m a reader. Maybe, even, for someone with two small kids and ridiculous career, a “big reader.” But it’s even harder for me, because… I am a completist. Once I start reading an author’s work, I need to read everything that writer has written. I can’t veer away. I need to check all that author’s books off my mental list. My knowledge of their work must be complete.

Now, I would never argue that I am a “smart reader,” or that my library contains the most artistic and challenging works civilization has to offer. But, I defy any of you to have read more Larry McMurtry books than I have. And that includes a lot of bad Larry McMurtry books. Why, oh why, would I read one more vexing Larry McMurtry semi-historical horny Western lady book, when I could be expanding my brain library in new intellectual directions?

What is my problem? I am running out of time. I’m 36. I’ve read about 2000 books. That leaves 2000 more to go, if I’m lucky. So why am I going back, again and again, to Walter Mosley? His books have all blended into one giant Easy Rawlins L.A. smoothie, and, for some reason, I’m still thirsty. Or C.S. Forester? Almost every single year of Horatio Hornblower’s seasick life has been accounted for in print – and I want to hoist the mainsail and chart a path for more. John Le Carré, Evelyn Waugh, Robertson Davies – I get it. I know what you guys do. (Spy, Wry, and Sly, respectively.) You’re great at it. Why can’t I move on? Oh Peter Carey, you Australian literary chameleon you, please release me from your page-turning walkabout!

Becoming fixated on a small group of authors limits one’s mental diversity. Shouldn’t I have read 39 different authors from one of those annoying 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die You Illiterate Moron-type books instead of 39 P.G. Wodehouse comedies of British Upper Class manners? Wouldn’t three shelf-inches of Moby Dick make for a more well-rounded cranial scorecard than foot-and-a-half of Douglas Coupland?

There’s probably nothing to be done. Breadth has been defeated by depth, if you can call Ian Fleming depth. Obsessively needing to “complete” these writers is embedded into my DNA. (A possible clue: my mother’s bookshelf has, at last count, 10,000 Ngaio Marsh mysteries.) I give up. Anyway, I gotta go read my ten millionth Richard Stark novel. I sure hope stone-cold career criminal Parker kills those guys who double-crossed him. Again.

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