Sky’s the Limit

I’m not comfortable with the adage “the sky’s the limit.” Perhaps that stems from having disconcerting dreams of uncontrollable ascent. A free float is as frightening to me as a free fall, maybe even more so. In a free fall gravity is still acting as it should; you may not be in control, but the laws of physics are. In a free float you are completely out of control, with nothing to stop you.

Having too many books on my to-read list worries me in much the same way. Without proper restrictions – be they self-imposed or external – what’s to stop the list from growing parabolically out of control? It’s not hyperbole to say the stack could reach from here to the moon.

I had set a hard cap of 100 books on my to-read list. Even with a reasonable goal of reading 50 books a year (roughly one per week), that would turn over half the list each year. That would be an acceptable turn rate, except that it limits me to adding 50 new titles annually. One for the read pile, one for the to-read pile. Could I abide such strict self-regulation? Certainly not; to do so would require a waiting list for the to-read list which would defeat the purpose.

The seemingly simple solution would be to increase the cap. Bump it up to 125. Instead of turning the list over every two years it would take two-and-a-half. 150 would take three years, 200 would take four. Where I set the cap is irrelevant; once it’s reached I’ll only be able to fill as many slots as I can open. I could set it so high there would be no risk of reaching it, but then it’s just a false sense of security. Why institute any cap if it causes so much consternation?

I experimented with the alternative; I released the cap and my to-read list quickly ballooned to 127 books (prompting this post). If I met my 50 book goal without adding another book I’d finish the year with 85 books on my list. Eighty-five is an acceptable amount, although that would preclude the addition of any more titles for the remaining nine months of 2011. Unacceptable.

Could I accelerate my reading rate? Read between 75-100 books a year? That would turn over the list in 12 – 16 months, 20 on the outside. I like this option better, but it would entail eliminating my minimal writing time entirely, which I am unwilling to do. Should I do away with both the goal and the cap, removing all numerical restrictions from being enforced and allowing my reading experience to soar to unseen heights?

An unchecked list leaves me discomfited by that free float feeling. What I need is a float valve like is used in the tank of a toilet. It floats to a prescribed point, then cuts off the inflow. When the scale hit 127 I had to cut back. I looked at the titles that had sat untouched for the last three years and identified the ones that would not likely be touched in the coming three years. Those titles were flushed from the system, paring the list down to 118 (I have since added another title). It isn’t in the ideal range of < 100, but it is a more manageable BMI (book mass index).

Ultimately what I am seeking is proportion. Altogether I have 485 books listed on goodreads: 362 read, 119 to read, 3 unfinished, and 1 currently reading.  My to-read list is approximately 25% of my total, which is higher than desired. A sampling of my friends on the site range from 1/862 (.1%) to 260/1853 (14%) to 306/415 (74%).  Personally I’d like to fall somewhere in the 92/685 (13%) range. That’s going to require a few more years of solid reading, but with the aid of my float valve I’ll get there!

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One Response to “Sky’s the Limit”

  1. Ryan Vest Says:

    As I read your opening, I couldn’t help but laugh as I was reminded of the scene in Despicable Me, where Dr. Nefario has just given one of the minions an anti-gravity serum and is watching him float out the skylight saying, “I meant to close that. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

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