Monday, April 17, 2017

Ashes to Ashes (dirt to dirt)

Reflecting on Easter and one’s own mortality is best left to others, probably. I’ve talked to a lot of healthy, young-enough, people recently about their thoughts on death as it figures in their own life-cycles. I don’t often have these talks with my friends. I wish I knew more about what they thought.  
Maybe I should have them more. For a culture so into zombies we don't often say meaningful things about death as a part of life until we are touched by a loss. One friend told me that she doesn’t like to think about it, so she doesn’t, except when something reminds her of it (like me asking).
The thing that bothers her the most are ideas regarding quantity over quality, like “you have 40 years left.” I brought it up because of a piece I saw on lithub that gives an estimate of how many more books one has left to read in their lifetime.
I’m a few weeks from my 35th birthday, so I fit nicely into the “female, 35 year old, Super Reader” category. With a life expectancy of 86, and an average of 80 books a year, that leaves me 4080 books before I die. 80 a year is nothing. Steven King has written 83 books! This is a wake up call to be more discerning and deliberate about what I read.
4080 is assuming a few things—that I’ll make it to 86/that I won’t live past 86, and that my actual average of 150.33333 tapers off. The taper makes sense. I’d expect that free time is going to shrink (career)/expand (retirement) in unpredictable ways. Now, the task is tapering my reading wish-list. 
For example, one New Year's resolution was to read all the books that were significant in Mad Men. I wouldn’t have read Lady Chatterly’s Lover if not for that project (weird sex flowers, but glad I read it). Now, realistically thinking that I have roughly 4000 books left in my life (if I’m lucky!), I have no way to justify Mad Men’s Ann Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Gbye book!
This is not as easy as M Kondo’s ‘hold it and see if it brings you joy,’ I don’t think. Some have been recommended by dear friends and it was a struggle to get into them. I’m looking at you Master and Margarita. I did not feel joy every time I held you, but I’m glad I did.
This is an opportunity to forgive myself the guilt of books that I’ve been holding onto that I wanted to read because I thought they would be ‘good for me,’ like Spivak’s (now slightly) outdated Death of a Discipline. Gbye Book!
I feel like I need a flowchart to help me figure out what of Everything to read. Birthday gift idea: make me one! Gift me a methodology! It’s a wonderful problem to have, and I’m very lucky if I live to my 80’s. I’m writing this from a place of privilege in many ways.
There are new books all the time. In all likelihood at least half of the books I will read haven’t been written yet. I get such a high from reading the new releases, still in hardcover!, from the library! This is also a lovely thing. And yet….
Here’s the new rule: the first 50 books every year will be ones that do give me that Kondo like joy thing. After 50 books (probably the age, too), I’ll be less discriminating. I’m writing today, at 40 books this year (and at my own 35 mark). The next ten I devote to consciously hold things of joy.  
Of all things to be concerned about with the end of my life the books I read (or how many) is ridiculous. Particularly when juxtaposed with people to love, places to see, problems to fix, dreams to follow and so on. Or when juxtaposed with the amount of death the world sees everyday.

But these things are connected, right? Why we make bucket-lists, why we have holidays to reflect on mortality, why we cry at the news, why we ask our friends if they are organ donors, why we teach, why we protest, why we plant trees, why we recycle, and why we read.  

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