I’ve been hearing the term “aspirational” a lot lately. Aspirational recycling, aspirational eating, aspirational shopping, and so forth. “Aspirational” is a term applied to anything you do more out of hope than effectiveness. The other day when I confronted the stacks of books on my nightstand and environs, I realized that aspirational reading was also a thing.
And I was most definitely an aspirational reader.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. I Googled the term “aspirational reading,” and it turns out I didn’t make it up. Aspiring to read specific books turns out to be a laudable goal. So does pushing yourself to expand your reading list.
Spending years of your life stacking up books that you will never read, however, cannot be so laudable. At least I should try to winnow my list and prioritize books that deserve to be on my bucket list.
Aspirational Reading Club
I read a lot, but not always the books I’ve set aside to read. Some of these books have been waiting patiently for me for years, even decades. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time has been awaiting me for a lifetime. I keep starting and re-starting it every few years. Proust is definitely on my bucket list of books, the ones that haunt me and that I will not feel complete without reading.
I am fortunate to be part of an “aspirational reading” book club (my name for it anyway) that revolves around reading bucket-list books. We dive into books that we are embarrassed never to have read, books we would feel incomplete without reading. We’ve covered many of my own bucket-list books so far, including The Tale of Genji and works of William Faulkner and James Baldwin. The group was even kind enough to add Swann’s Way to the list. (I still have to make it through the rest of Proust on my own, alas).
Sometimes reading our bucket-list books takes the social support of a group or a class, and knowledge that we will be there for each other to untangle them. (That was certainly true for me and The Tale of Genji.) Books clubs and classes can be a great way to winnow down your personal bucket list while expanding your literary horizons. Through this club, I’ve read and suffered through the dream books of others. These are books I would never have read on my own, and reading them genuinely opened windows to new worlds–even if I was dragged there reluctantly. (Admittedly, selecting the right book group or class is key.)
Still, as the years tick by, I have to admit that some of the books piled up in my house are more window dressing than windows to new worlds. I am so used to the stacks, so comforted by them, that I sometimes forget they’re books. Instead I pick up whatever new volume I’ve purchased or borrowed and just add it to the top of the stack.
What’s on Your Bucket List of Books?
Honestly, I may never read some of these books. I may not even ever touch them, unless I am forced to do so the next time I move.
Clearly this calls for another poll. So, aspirational readers of the world, please tell me:
What book is top on your bucket list of books? What book have you always wanted to read but somehow never have? And what book would you feel incomplete without reading?