Oxblood ink abstract calligraphy fills the image in curly glyphs. Own work 2023.

Books I should be reading but am not

Along with my selected excuses

by AK Krajewska

A book is not a pizza. It will not go off if you take a long time to read it all, and nothing is wasted if you read only a portion. Also, unlike pizza, you can get books out of the library or buy them in electronic form, so none to very little waste is produced as a result of you not finishing the book. There are plenty of books I start, decide I'm not into them, and don't finish. I don't consider it virtuous to finish books nor sinful to abandon them. Non-fiction and poetry books are often perfectly enjoyable or useful if you read only a portion.

However, there are some books that I think I should read, not out of some kind of moral obligation to the book itself, but for other reasons that are important to my life projects. Nonetheless, I am not reading them.

Gender Trouble

The book: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler

Why I should be reading it: Some ideas soak into your life second- and third-hand. I keep thinking about gender and performativity all the time and I'm sure I'm rethinking some ideas Judith Butler has already thought. I could probably save a lot of time thinking if I read her thoughts first. Also, I really enjoyed Judith Butler's introduction to Of Grammatology and every long interview I've ever read with her. I find her a very engaging thinker.

Why I am not: I've brought this book with me on two, and perhaps three vacations already. I have carried it in my backpack on the way to and from work. And I have read, I think, just the first 10 pages, if that. Like, the introduction or the introduction to the introduction. I keep pausing to think about what she has said and then I put the book back down and do not pick it up. Also, I think I need to take notes in it as I read it, but I only want to do that in pencil and I don't always have a pencil handy.

Women's Work

The book: Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Why I should be reading it: Every time I read a little bit of this book, I'm blown away and inspired. Not only does it have so much to say about the history of textiles and how they were made, but also illuminates the historiography of textiles and women's work. Just the bit of it that I have read has inspired me deeply. And it's on the bottom shelf of my coffee table where I sometimes touch it with my foot when I put my laptop on top of it and shove it gently. I have not forgotten this book exists. I just don't touch it with my hands that often.

Why I am not: It's a really heavy book, I mean, physically. And my coffee table is near the TV, where one my screen, for example, Columbo or any number of science fiction films.

Mother Nature

The book: Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

Why I should be reading it: Sarah Hrdy revolutionized how we think about primate motherhood and especially female primate infanticide. Her findings were so taboo-breaking that other scientists were too scandalized to absorb them at first. There is so much good and mind-blowing stuff in the little bit of the book I have read so far, like how the hyena's birth canal passes through its elongated clitoris, and how painful and dangerous their births are. As with Women's Work even a little bit of this book fills me with inspiration and ideas.

Why I am not: It is also extremely heavy. I cannot take it in my purse and read it on the bus.

Wolf Hall

The book: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Why I should be reading it: It's genuinely incredible piece of literary historical fiction with fascinating characters and beautiful writing. I'm at least two thirds into it. And it's my friend D-'s favorite book. If I finished it, I could talk to her about it at length and everyone knows that talking about books is one of the best things in life.

Why I am not: I kind of know how it ends, being that it's historical fiction and all. I know, that doesn't stop me with other books, and I even read spoilers on purpose sometimes so it should be an advantage. It's not science fiction.

Critique of Pure Reason

The book: Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

Why I should be reading it: It's a foundational text of Western philosophy. Chances are most of the philosophers I've read have read it and are in conversation with it somehow. There seems to be a kind of accepted way of interpreting Kant, and to me that's always a good sign to go back to the primary text. I read a part of it last year in the intercalary-feeling period between Christmas and New Year, and quite liked it. I think it might help me solve my triangle problem. I even got an ebook version of a recent translation so I don't have an excuse about physical weight and I could listen to it as text-to-speech.

Why I am not: It's so long, and really boring at times. The secondary texts are actually much worse and are no help at all. I keep telling myself I should read Gender Trouble first, anyway.

What I have been reading instead


Perhaps I should also read How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard, which I added to my Goodreads Want to Read list in 2018, but evidently I am quite capable of talking about books I haven't read already. That said, I limited this list to books I own and actually intend to read as part of my current life project(s). For example, while I own and eventually intend to finish reading Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault, it's not urgent. I also have plenty of books in mind that I think would be nice to read and want to but feel no real urgency about, for example, all Nebula winners in the novel category, and knowing how I tend to inhale speculative fiction novels to the harm of my sleep cycle and all other reading and life activities, I only buy or get them from the library as needed.

I have learned one thing from this list, which I sort of knew, and it's that I am much more likely to finish books if they are in ebook format. One day, I should write about my text-to-speech reading habits, because for a fully sighted person, I suspect I do an unusual amount of reading by robot voice.