monica byrne

Six kinds of books.

I estimate that, between my Kindle and my home library, I have 250 books in my to-read pile.

What’s a woman to do?

In my case, I put my books in six distinct categories, each with their allotted time in the course of a working month. So at any given time, I’m in the middle of at least six books.

1. Bathroom reading. This is not any kind of insult to the book. These books just tend to be dense with information, and so, best digested in small bits (so to speak). Currently it’s Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict by Joan V. Bondurant, which is extremely good. (Also, I am so grateful that I have not undertaken any kind of nonviolent resistance before I knew a hundredth of what the f*ck I was doing.)

2. Research books. These are books I’m reading for whatever writing project I’m currently working on.The pile for The Actual Star is…significant. If I get my word quota done early in a day, I read these; I also take them along with me on errands, so I have something to read if I get lunch out somewhere. Most recently: my own sister’s book The Other Catholics!—which is a landmark, comprehensive, gorgeously written study of U.S.-based independent Catholic churches.

3. Sunday long-term pleasure reads. Sunday is my day off, by God, so it’s reserved specifically for reading what I want and tossing it aside if I don’t like it (SO satisfying.) Right now, every Sunday brunch at Old Havana Sandwich Shop, I’ve been reading Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Big Book of Science FictionI manage two or three stories a session; even so, it’ll probably take me a year to get through it all. Here is my progress with, as always, a plate of rice and beans, maduros, fried egg, and seasoned pork, with a sweet café con leche. I call it my Sunday church 🙂

4. Sunday short-term pleasure reads. These are books I can read in a day. I’d forgotten that I can easily read a whole book in a day! I used to take a month or more to read a single book because I could only read for a half hour here and there, but now that I have an entire day of the week reserved for it, it’s easy. The latest: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. Holy mackerel it was creepy—like The Haunting of Hill House, except in the Australian outback. I highly recommend it.

5. Road trip audiobooks. My sweetie lives in D.C., so I’m taking trips up to visit him often, and audiobooks make the long drives happier. Right now I’m reading A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit, about the spontaneous utopias that arise in the wake of environmental catastrophe. Very relevant to our flooded future.

6. Art-making audiobooks. When I do art commissions (like this one or this one!), I’m bent over them for hours at a time in a trance state. When I’m designing it, I need silence; but when I’m in the coloring-and-decoration phase, I can listen. Right now I’m making my way through the entire Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, an account of how humans settle and terraform Mars. Each of them is thirty hours long!

Also, a few years ago, I finally gave myself permission to stop reading a book if I didn’t like it. It was life-changing. Now, I stop reading as many books as I finish. Because life is too short.

Do you have any “systems” to organize all your reading?


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