Great Expectations

06d11e3a0263b62966ea48fc5e990cc3I’m sure we all know the old saying that someone’s eyes are bigger than their stomach.  It is probably especially appropriate at this time of year when too many of us habitually pile our plates with more food than we can ever reasonably hope to eat – and yes, Bears, I am looking in your direction.  However, I’m equally certain that those of us who are avid readers are well aware that a literary variant of this adage also exists, namely that our projected reading is always larger than the amount we actually manage to get through.

You would think, wouldn’t you, considering how much we have read during our lifetimes, that by now we would have a realistic expectation of the number of books we are likely to get through in any given period.  Not a bit of it!

Now I’m not talking here about the wilful neglect of books that we feel we ought to read but somehow never get round to.  I had a colleague who each summer took all the newly published books in her field on holiday with her with the stated intention of catching up on the latest research.  To the best of my knowledge she never read a single one and I don’t think deep down she ever thought she would. However subliminal, that is deliberate self-deception.  No, this is something different.  I’m certain that we draw up these reading lists, whatever the number of hours or days we think we have before us, with the honest belief that there really will be ‘world enough and time’ to get through them.  And we never learn that we are, quite simply, wrong.  For years, whenever I went on holiday, I would pack enough books to stock a small library.  One for every day I was away and a couple over just in case I’d chosen something I ended up disliking was my general rule of thumb.  I just had to hope that I was going to be able to buy clean underwear when I arrived at my destination. I probably got through about half. Latterly, the arrival of the e-reader has at least meant that I have had room for clothes as well, but nevertheless the number of books downloaded is still equal to those previously packed.  Hope springs eternal in the reader’s breast.

And holidays at home are no different as I have just rediscovered.  I was determined that I was going to read my way through all of the Wimsey books over this past ten days as well as catching up with a number of reviewing commitments.  Have I done so?  No, of course I haven’t!  Four Wimseys and two review copies has been my tally.  And if I’d been honest with myself I would have known in advance that that would be the case.  Why?  Because it always has been, and it always will be. I suspect it is an unalterable law of the universe.  It’s just that with a stretch of a week or so when there really is going to be time to simply curl up and indulge myself, my imagination runs away with me and I start to fantasise about how many of those ‘must reads’ I am going to be able to consume.  I should have learnt by now that however much I wish it were the case, fantasy is not real life.

In truth, I do still have another week before my regular commitments start up again, but of course, I have preparation to do for them and so what I want to read is going to have to be put to one side in favour of what I have to read. I suppose I shouldn’t complain.  At least my work prep is still reading and fiction reading at that.  Things could be a lot worse.  But, that pile of books that I so confidently predicted I was going to demolish has been diminished by less than half and yet again I have failed to meet my great expectations.

30 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. Ah, I recognise myself in that… Although the converse is also (occasionally) true. When I expect a holiday period to be so busy that I will have no time for reading, then I manage to get through more books than I had expected.

    1. Goodness, I wish I had ever had that experience, Marina. I would certainly remember it if it had ever happened. The anniversary would be just cause for celebration.

  2. I’m guilty of this – in fact it summarises my whole book buying pattern as I own more books than I’ll probably ever read and yet I still keep buying more – what to do????

    1. Karen, my university supervisor once told me that the day he had come to terms with his mortality was the day he realised that he owned more books than he could ever hope to read in his remaining years, however long they might be. Not a particularly welcome thought, but a salutary one.

  3. I am very guilty of this – I am going to be one or two behind my optimistic plans for December and that’s supposing I can do virtually nothing but read Tuesday and Wednesday.

    1. I have reached the point where I am wondering if I should cancel what I was intending to do tomorrow just to get some more reading done. I can’t make up my mind whether this is a sensible idea or just very very sad.

  4. I take exactly the same approach in packing for a trip. My biggest concern – other than flying – is running out of things to read. I’ve never managed a book a day, but that doesn’t stop me from packing them.

    And aside from reading, I’m another who buys far more books than I can reasonably read. I’ll be trying the equivalent of a new-book diet with the annual TBR dare, but in previous years that hasn’t stopped my buying new books.

  5. heh, the great expectations are all part of the fun though, aren’t they? I mean, just imagine how sad things would be without them! Four Wimseys and two review books seems like a good go to me!

  6. I still have great expectations for my reading over the rest of the vacation. I finished a really terrific book today from my pile of Christmas presents, and should start another later this afternoon, except that I do need to go on with the biography I’m reading so I can send it home with my daughter when she flies back home on Jan. 3.

    1. I wish I could say the same, Jeanne. Mind you, I’ve just looked at the weather forecast for the rest of the week and there isn’t going to be much to tempt me outside so maybe I shall manage to finish a couple more before the weekend.

  7. My uncle works for the World Service and is so busy digesting New statesman et al he doesn’t have time to read fiction. I am glad I am not in the sort of job that deadens my love of reading. Although I would love to read fiction for a living ! Maybe then I would have a chance of reading all I wanted to.

    1. I made very certain that I never took a job that didn’t allow me to sit and read fiction at some point in every day, Denise. I think I would have gone quietly mad if I had done anything else.

      1. It’s weird, I’m nearly forty now and I do have moments of wonder at the life I could have led if I had made different choices earlier on, ones that would have let me do the same. I think you were very sensible in your choices.

    1. No, it’s funny,isn’t it Annabel, how difficult it is for one part of our brain to communicate with another? I have exactly the same problem, so it must be something that is hard-wired in us by genetics and therefore absolutely not our problem in anyway whatsoever.

  8. I wish I could remember who said it, but I love the quote: ‘When we buy a book, we think we are buying the time to read it.’ That is definitely true for me!

  9. Dear Alex, Have you ever thought that it’s high time you delegated responsibility to those leisure-loving bears and let them do some of the reading? Then, each bear could be responsible for delivering a small book report on the book read, thus saving you some time by letting you in for a slight “spoiler” so that you might know whether a book was really one you want to read or not. I think it’s about time those plumpish little bears began to earn their honey!

    1. The Bears are already great readers, SO, but they draw the line at writing about them. And if I were to suggest withholding honey rights I would have a rebellion on my hands. As you may have noticed, there are more of them than there is of me. Not a good idea! 🙂

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