On top of a chest of drawers, I have about six tall stacks of partially read books. Each horizontal stack contains about ten volumes, lying atop one another with spines facing into the room. Most of them are serious tomes on environmental topics or difficult novels that I have received as gifts. It is relatively rare that I come home from a day of work in the kind of headspace where sitting down with something challenging – in a literary or intellectual sense – is terribly appealing. Weekends, too, tend to be filled up with laundry and catching up on a work week’s neglected sleep. As such, the books tend to sit unread for weeks, and months, and years.
One trick I have found is to give myself a bit of mental cheesecake – a book that is quick and delicious. For instance, a novel that doesn’t require you to keep track of the storylines of multiple family members across different generations, perhaps punctuated by nauseating sexual violence. Or a non-fiction book that is not a depressing trudge through all the ways humanity is wrecking the planet that sustains us.
Malcolm Gladwell’s books often play this role well. So can classic novels, which often lack the flourishes that Booker Prize judges seem to fixate upon but which often make the books into impossible morasses that can only be passed through as the result of determined and uninterrupted effort.
Not only does the cheesecake book itself get read quickly and enjoyably, but it also conveys a certain forward momentum to the general project of reading, and sometimes makes me make some progress against one of the heavier items in my long queue.