MIND MELD: How Long Do You Have A Book Before You Read It?

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This week we asked our participants about their reading habits:

Q: How long do you have a book before you read it? We, as biblioholics and voracious readers often accumulate books at a greater pace than we can read them. What is the longest you’ve had a book before you’ve read it and/or how long do you typically let a book sit before you read it?

Ellen B. Wright
Ellen B. Wright is senior publicist at Orbit. You can find her on Twitter at @ellenbwright.

I suspect (I hope) that everyone’s answer will be some variation on “it depends,” and I’m no exception. Here’s an idea of the range, illustrated with five of my favorite books of 2014 (so far).

Both Nicola Griffith’s Hild and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni were published last year, and I didn’t get around to reading them until this year — but I started reading each book the day I obtained it. (In both cases, I think, at the beginning of a trip; at any rate, I remember devouring Hild on an airplane.)

Two older, excellent books I read this year were Madeleine L’Engle’s The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. I’m pretty sure I acquired both over a decade ago, at a fundraising sale of the local library in my college town. College was when my book-buying power finally began to outstrip my reading pace, between getting an employee discount at the bookstore where I worked and that dangerous library sale.

Between these two extremes lies, for example, Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise , which Max kindly signed for me last October at New York Comic Con and which I read in April. Six months! I’ll call that average, since it’s a relatively unembarrassing number.

Mark Yon
Mark Yon has been a reviewer, interviewer and web administrator at SFFWorld, one of the world’s longest running and biggest genre forum sites, for about a decade, but has been a fan for much longer. He has been published in Fortean Times and on the Orbit UK website, interviewed many authors for SFFWorld and has also been on the David Gemmell Award organization committee.

Oh boy. Before we start, properly, there are some things I need to check with you first:

  1. You know, I’m a book-lover, right? That I will buy books, just because I feel like it? Sometimes when I’ve got one copy already? Because I like the new edition? Or to get a matching set?
  2. Some books I just buy for ‘that rainy day’ – I don’t fancy it now, but I know I will when I’m in the mood for an ‘Author X’ book.
  3. I am a person who filled his Kindle with books in three months .But I don’t just buy books. I also get sent books. Because I review stuff. Sometimes this means I read stuff straight away (Joe Abercrombie’s Half A King, most recently, for example), some stuff I leave until nearer publication date (erm: most stuff, because there’s usually some in front of it.)
  4. Sometimes, if the book for review is number twenty-two in a series, I might need to do a bit of prior reading: which means I buy more books (The usual examples here are Fantasy trilogies and Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” novels.)  If I’m interviewing someone I like to read up on stuff first. (I did that a few years ago too, when I interviewed Terry Brooks.)
  5. Sometimes if the book’s already been reviewed by someone else at SFFWorld, I’ll leave it for a special occasion – ie: that time when I don’t review everything I read and just read what I darn well want. (I still haven’t read David Louis Edelman’s “Jump 225” series, now eight years and counting, for that reason.)
  6. And then there’s the stuff that I *want* to read, but the review stuff pushes it out of the way. (Yes, Elizabeth Moon’s “Paladin’s Legacy” series – I’m looking at you. But, sadly, not reading you.)

It doesn’t help that I’m also a hoarder. You know, I don’t get rid of books. Just in case. You never know, I might want to read that one again, or just look at it. For a while. Or put it with the other copies in the series on the shelf…

You see, all of this is important. It might help you understand.

Confession time: I admit – I am a biblioholic, with an addiction to a sense of wonder, who relishes opportunities to be scared, thrilled and excited, who doesn’t mind the odd bit of sadness or melancholy, who genuinely relishes the glorious widescreen experience that books can bring. A new book offers so much, and unfortunately can also disappoint. But sometimes it’s not the book, it’s me: it took me three goes to finish Dune, until I finally ‘got it’. (Which is why I refer you back to point number 2 above.)

Here at Hobbit Towers I have books I’ve had for over thirty years that I keep ‘meaning’ to read. (See points 1 & 2 above.) Some of them are there waiting patiently (see point 2), others I might just get to when I’m in the mood. (see point 5.) Others keep getting pushed back. But you never know… (see point 6.)

I work on the philosophy that you can never have enough books. If you run short of space, then you get a bigger house. (Or another Kindle.) Which is part of the reason why I moved to the current Hobbit Towers seven years ago.

Nevertheless, despite the enormity of the task before me, I am optimistic. When I retire from a full-time job, then I might just catch up. But I’m fairly happy at the moment to know that the possibility’s always there.

Currently in the fore-brain: I am determined to finish “The Wheel of Time” series. One day. I keep stalling at Book 4 or so. And even now, when the entire series is looking at me, both in hardback and on the Kindle (thanks to the Hugo Awards Voter’s package), I still mean to. One day. That’s only about twenty years it’s taken.

Whereas that set of John Norman Gor books might just stay there, at the back of the shelves in the lower vaults, for a while longer. (I admit it – I did enjoy the first few – when I was about fifteen. Time goes on, tastes change.) But you never know.

Kristen Bell
Kristen Bell runs Fantasy Café, a site dedicated to discussion and reviews of fantasy and science fiction books

How long I have a book before reading it really depends, and I’m not sure what the average time is that a book remains unread on my shelves (or wherever I can find a place for it since my shelves are getting rather full) for that reason. It varies widely, and there’s really no rhyme or reason behind what makes me pick up some books immediately and let others languish on my shelves for years. Sometimes I look at the beginning of a book I got by a new-to-me author and decide I must read it immediately, and other times I decide it seems like something I’ll be in the mood for some other time. At times, when I get a brand new book by one of my favorite authors, I begin reading it immediately. Other times when I get a book by a favorite author, I decide to save it as a “treat” and read it after I read a few books that didn’t work for me or during a time when I’m not feeling well. I do have a few books purchased around 11 years ago that I still haven’t read, and there are many books I’ve had around for 4 or 5 years that I haven’t yet read—and yes, some of these are by some favorite authors since I like having books to look forward to and hate the thought of running out of books to read in some series!

Mark Chitty
A regular reader, and somewhat irregular reviewer, Mark Chitty has been a sci-fi fan for longer than he can remember. Formerly behind walkerofworlds.com, he now contributes reviews over at SFFWorld.com. He also loves tea.

This is the sort of question that I thought would be a quick, and simple, answer – for all of about two seconds before the realization that I’m a hoarder hit me. I love books and am if the opinion that the more I have, the better!

Books tend to fall into a few categories for me: there are the must-buys, the ones I want to read, and the review copies I receive.

The must-buys are usually the ones that I plan on reading pretty much straight away. To be honest, these don’t usually sit on the to-read stack for long, maybe a month at the most while I finish up what I’m currently reading. After all, I’ve been looking forward to them for a long while and I don’t plan on hanging around once they’re in my possession. Typically you can almost guarantee that releases by Eric Brown, Peter F Hamilton, Neal Asher, John Scalzi, Jim Butcher, and Jack Campbell easily fall into this category.

The books I want to read, but aren’t necessarily ones I’ll get to in the short-term, can vary. I buy them because I want to read them, but they can stay on my stack for much longer than I’d like to admit. But admit it I will – I have got some on my shelves that have been collecting dust for years. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get around to them all.

Review copies are the unpredictable ones. I’ll often get a book that just piques my interest and is added to the stack straight away and will be read within a month or two, especially if they’re new releases and the release date isn’t far off. Others can just disappear under the piles of books scattered around the house, and when they’ll see the light of day is anyone’s guess.

It’s just a shame that my reading rate is about six books per month, while I new arrivals can be triple that. Something has to give, but one day I’ll get around to them….

Kathryn A. Ryan
Kathryn A. Ryan is a British part-time blogger who can be found on Twitter as @Loerwyn, and writes mainly for her blog The Forged Forest

I’d say I generally read about four or five books a month – this includes graphic novels and the occasional short story – but I purchase at least double that number every month, usually a mixture of fantasy and science-fiction, but lately I’ve been adding non-fiction and historical fiction to that list. With my Read:Purchased ratio being so high, it’s pretty common for a book to sit untouched or unfinished on my shelves for quite some time.

On average, I think a book lingers for at least six months to a year before being read, but it depends on what it is and whether it’s part of a series. I’m terrible at finishing series but I’m also terrible for buying part or all of a series in one go, leaving me in a position where I may have read over half the series but the final book(s) have been untouched in the year or two since I finished the previous title. This happens more frequently than I’m willing to admit, and it’s left my shelves a mix of unfinished and unstarted series.

That said, the record for the longest I’ve had a book before finishing it belongs to my lovely hardcover omnibus of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. I did start it once, and I even finished the first book or two, but for the eight or nine years I’ve owned it it’s largely been untouched.

N. E. White
N. E. White reviews for SFFWorld and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories in her spare time. Find her online at nilaewhite.wordpress.com and on Twitter @n_e_white.

How long do you have a book before you read it?

Good question. I guess, it depends on my mood. Sometimes, a book’s premise and first page immediately grab my attention, and I finish reading it the very day I get it (most recent examples: The Cutting Room (The Complete Season) by Edward W. Robertson and Half a King by Joe Abercrombie). Other times, a book could sit on my virtual (or real) bookshelf for years before I get to it. Most fall somewhere between a week to a month; slow burners that take a bit of time before I’m invested in their characters’ stories, but once I do, I’m hooked (recent examples: Tracks by K.M. Tolan, Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards, The Magister’s Mask by Deby Fredericks, and The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle).

What is the longest you’ve had a book before you’ve read it and/or how long do you typically let a book sit before you read it?

That’s another “it depends” question. It depends on what I’ve read immediately before. You know how some stories just stick with you? Your mind can’t let some nagging story question alone and your brain gnaws and gnaws away at it until you’ve resolved the issue to your satisfaction? I’m often left with story questions. I often re-write sections or the end of a story (in my head, of course) until my inner child is satisfied. I can’t do that and start another book. So for me, there’s often a lag between books that I read. It seems I add at least one or two books to my ‘to-read’ list on Goodreads everyday. And since it typically takes me two to four weeks to finish a book (yeah, I’m slow), coupled with the lag between books, it can be months (or even years) before I get to a book. I just checked my Goodreads ‘to-read’ list and it shows that I’ve had The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian on my list since June 27, 2012. I guess I’ve got a bit of a backlog…

Jennie Ivins
Jennie Ivins lives in Central New Jersey with her math loving husband and their three autistic boys (one set of twins & one singleton). In between being a stay-at-home mom and trying to stay above the flood of toys and dirty laundry, she is Features Editor at Fantasy-Faction.com and writing her first series of fantasy novels. Besides her love of words also enjoys photography, art, and cooking as well as anything else shiny that happens across her field of vision. You can find her on Twitter @autumn2may or on her website http://thewritewaytotype.wordpress.com/

I am embarrassed to admit that there are a couple books I acquired in college that I have still yet to read. Not because I don’t want to read them, but because I keep buying more books! So to answer the first bit: a *really* long time.

Typically though if I want a book enough to buy a copy I tend to start reading it the week I buy it. If I’m given a book that looks good, it goes into my to-read pile, which is rather sizable at present. I think I have one or two books in my to-read that have been there for well over a year (maybe even closer to two). As for how big my to-read pile is? Well, let’s just say my husband and I just added a new bookshelf this spring. ;) I am hoping to cut that time down in the fall though, as all my kids will finally be in school all day. Yay for more reading time!

Joe Sherry
Joe Sherry lives in Minnesota. His reviews and articles have appeared in Fantasy Magazine and the Sacramento Book Review. He blogs at Adventures in Reading.

Strangely, the books which sit the longest are the ones I buy for myself, and those usually from my favorite used book store (Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis). I have several biographies and general histories which have sat on my shelves for years, but those are as much for collection and general reference as they are to immediately read.

But when I make an Uncle Hugo‘s run, I’m looking for something to catch my eye and demand to be read right now. Those demanding books often sit for two years.

The book has sat the longest, however, is The Ruins of Ambrai from Melanie Rawn. I just came off of devouring the Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies, read that first trilogy several times and I was excited to read the next thing Rawn wrote. So, when the mass market paperback edition of The Ruins of Ambrai was published in 1995, I picked up a copy the first day I saw it in the store.

I still haven’t read it. At first, I couldn’t tell you why. I read her next book, The Golden Key (with Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott), but I still never started The Ruins of Ambrai. It was just never the time. At this point, Rawn has not yet finished the trilogy, and The Ruins of Ambrai continues to taunt me from a place of honor on the shelf.

Sarah Chorn
Sarah Chorn has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a freelance writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, two-time cancer survivor, and mom to one rambunctious toddler. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books. You can find her annoying people on Twitter as @BookwormBlues, and on Facebook. She runs Special Needs in Strange Worlds through SF Signal, and reviews books on BookwormBlues.net. She is currently working on her first collaborative novel to be published later this year through Antimatter Press.

I am probably the worst person on the planet to ask this question. If you want to talk about dirty secrets, this is mine. I get about twenty books in the mail a week. That’s twenty books constantly coming in my house. Twenty. Books. It is absolutely impossible for me to keep up on all of those. I have a (very) few books I received a year ago that I still haven’t read, not because I don’t want to, but because I get sidetracked.

In general, with that many books floating into my house in any given week, I have to prioritize. I’ve gotten better over the years. I try (very hard) to read a book so I can review it within a month of its release date. If an author has a specific timeline request for me, then I move their book to the appropriate place in my pile(s). If you wonder why I read about seven books at the same time, it’s because that’s the only way I can even moderately keep up on it all.

If you think I’m complaining, not even close. I don’t think it is possible to be overwhelmed by books. I enjoy being surrounded by words. I think it’s the best kind of chaos that I can possibly have in my life. My husband, however, might disagree. My book piles are overwhelming. However, in general, because I do read so many books at the same time, and because I do try very hard to keep my piles prioritized, I generally read the books I get within at least three months of receiving them. While I think that seems like a timeline I should be proud of, other people might think that I’m a total slacker. I can see their perspective. Regardless, three months seems to be my golden time, unless I’m otherwise promising a review-by date.

The longest I’ve ever had a book that I haven’t read is a year. I won’t say what book, and I won’t say why I waited that long, but a year. Those end-of-series books are almost painful to read, so I put them off again… and again… and again…

16 thoughts on “MIND MELD: How Long Do You Have A Book Before You Read It?”

  1. Last month, I finished A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, edited by Terry Carr and Martin H. Greenberg. I bought it soon after it came out in 1981! I’d read some of the contents, but not nearly all.

  2. That’s hard to say. I try to be good about having a very short list of BsTR on my selves at any given time. Also I’m trying to be better at not re-reading so many of my favorites and concentrate on new ones I haven’t. What can I say – I work full-time, have a wife, two-year-old daughter and a son due in September which leaves little time for relaxing with a book. I love short-story science fiction [particularly hard science fiction] – so I’ll have a few anthologies and such hanging around by book shelves that I can dip into when time allows, along with a longer read [currently book five of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire].

  3. Yep, “It depends” is my answer as well. I recently read The Last Unicorn for the first time — I’d bought the book back in the early 1990s. I still have unread books on my shelf that I bought in high school that I kind of plan to get around to reading someday.

    On the other hand, there are instances when I go to Amazon, buy something for my Kindle, sit down on the couch and start reading it within minutes of purchase.

  4. I’ve been meaning to read a few books from the 70s that I haven’t got to yet. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is the first that comes to mind. Though I only just recently bought the mass market paperback.

    Looking at my Goodreads list of unread books, I have 1497 books yet to be read. I average about 300 books a year, so that would mean I have 5 years worth of books to read. So following that logic, I own a book between 0 and 5 years before I read it.

  5. It depends. If an author sends me a book personally…I am inclined to push it up the pile.
    That said, I buy books so quickly that I have books >5 years old that are as yet unread…

  6. I loved hearing all of these great people confess their reading habits! Especially Mark’s because my own so greatly mirror his, while I also feel somewhat like Sarah in that I’m reading five books at any given time with the number of books that arrive at my house each week.I jusT wish I could definitely read them all with in three months of them landing on my bookshelves.

  7. There are two Mark’s on that list: Tabitha, *if* it is me you are referring to: thank you!

    Sometimes it’s great to know that you’re not the only person who thinks like that…

    …. and the other posts also suggest that we are not alone.

    “Book hoarders of the world unite!” (or some such rallying cry) is perhaps needed at this point. As always, fascinating reading: I really enjoy the posts.

  8. A more recent variation on this theme: I have a book on my shelf that I’ve owned for years without ever reading it. I decide it’s finally time, so I go buy the eBook version.

  9. Mark Yon, you are my twin when it comes to book buying philosophy! I buy books to finish out a series I am collecting or because I read the first book in a trilogy and really liked it and want to have the other books at hand (Julie Czerneda, Kage Baker and Robin Hobb I am looking at you!), I’m slowly replacing used copies that I’d gotten years ago and are now falling apart even though I have no plans to read the book in the next few months (Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Adams looking at you!) and I’m also a book hoarder.

    And sometime just because the book looks cool or all my blogger buddies are recommending it.

  10. I think one of the books I own with the longest shelf life might be THE NEW SPACE OPERA ed by Strahan / Dozois. I bought a few months after publication (2007) and it still resides in (one of) my to-read cabinets.

  11. Thank you, Andrea. I have many many books to add to my list of shame: this thread reminds me of many.

    And Joe: Exiles/The Ruins of Ambrai is one of them (bought in 1995/6, I think!) And Ellen: The Golem and the Jinni is on my Kindle.

    But it looks like Bruce is the winner: at the moment at least. :)

    1. I’m the winner? What do I win? A free book? (In a sane world, winning here would mean having to send one of your TBR books to all the other entrants.)

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