You know that book? The one on your bookshelf, by your bed, in your spare room, in the box in your closet? The book that snickers at you behind your back? Every so often you pick it up, just to see. You read the first page and a half and then it goes back on the shelf.
You decide to bring it with you on vacation, because the reason you're not reading it is because you never have time to read at home. But the whole time you're away it stays zipped up in the front pocket of your suitcase, no hope of getting a tan, only to be dutifully unpacked when you get back home. Passed over once again for more Fifty Shades of the latest bestseller.
It stops snickering and starts to feel a little left out as the books around it are taken to the favorite chair, one by one. Their pages mindlessly caressed as hair is twirled and their words are read.
Every so often you think of letting it go, when you're moving, or dusting, but then you read the first page and a half again and think that it might be useful someday. That someday you'll be the person, have the time, have the desire to commit to this book.
It's a good reference, despite the fact that it has never once been referred to in it's long life. So it goes back on the shelf, back to sleep.
After awhile you stop seeing it. It's part of the background, an extra with no lines.
It's not as if it came into your life by accident. You chose this book. You stood, your weight on one foot, leaning against the shelf, your finger tracing the embossed lettering on the cover as you read the first page and a half at your local bookstore. You spent half an hour reading all the reviews on amazon and goodreads before adding it to your cart.
It was recommended, your best friend loved it. It changed her life!
What is it about these books? I know there's more than one, there always is. They form a little collection, a little library of their own. There is no fear of the corners of their pages being creased or smudges accumulating on their shiny plastic covers. No names and dates accumulating in the pocket in the back.
The books you buy and don't read. Why is it so hard to let them go?
I have a theory. Do you want to hear it?
My theory is that the books that you don't read are trying to tell you something. They have a story to tell, but it's not the one that's between the pages.
Will you do something for me? Go over to your bookshelf and take a look at the books. There are probably a number that you've carted around for awhile that you've just never gotten around to reading. Go grab a few and then come back.
A hint... Take an especially good look at the books in these categories: self help, creativity, non-fiction, travel, health, pretty coffee table books and cookbooks.
I'm going to do it too, hold on just a sec...
So... What did you find? I'll show you mine, if you show me yours...
Here are a couple that I found on my shelf:
- ROCK AND ROLL WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Steve Almond
- the WAR of ART: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
"Ah yes... I see... How very, very interesting... Lie down on the couch and I'll tell you all about your inner workings..."
This is my theory. The books that you don't read, are trying to tell you about something that you want. You may or may not be conscious of wanting it, but if you're honest, you do. You really really want it.
So, what do I want? What will my books reveal?
Let's look at the first book, ROCK AND ROLL WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Steve Almond. What does it mean? Do I have a secret desire to be a rock star?
I have a confession to make, I have always wanted to be a rock star! I've dreamed of being on stage, with the lights, the moves and the screaming fans singing along. I've bought domain names for pretend bands, jammed in garages with friends and even recorded a song or two. I've been a super fan, a t-shirt wearing groupie and traveled many miles to see my favorite bands. I have fantasies about being invited on stage to sing duets with my favorite stars.
Even as a little girl, I used to lie in the bathtub with my ears under water and my white blonde hair a gorgeous floating crown while I sang all the ABBA songs I knew and pictured myself as the fifth member of their crew. OK, so maybe, just maybe, I want Rock and Roll to save my life...
What about the WAR of ART by Steven Pressfield? What does it have to say? Am I at war with art?
In grade two I became convinced that I couldn't do art because I couldn't draw the bowl full of fruit our teacher plunked before us. I made a decision that day that I would never draw again and started telling myself the story that I'm just not creative.
I've done a lot of work on deconstructing those limiting beliefs. I've drawn cows with crayons, taken writing classes, worn ill fitting artsy clothing and hitchhiked around Europe. I'm not sure how much the last two helped, but the first two have shifted my self perception around "art" and my own creative process. It's still a struggle though. There's something I want, and I'm not totally getting it when it comes to creativity. I do want to win the war.
When I've done this exercise in the past I've found books on money, success and procrastination. When I've done this exercise with clients they've found books on Florence, Italy, having better sex, reading faster, improving vocabulary, healthy eating and clearing clutter.
You buy the book because, on a conscious or subconscious level, you want what the book is trying to sell. You buy an exercise book because you want to feel different in your body. You buy an organizational book because you want to feel different in your home and life.
Books can change your life, there is no doubt about it. But in order to change your life, you actually have to read them.
So you have two choices. You can read the book or let it go.
If you try, one last time, to read the book and you put it down again after the first page and a half, do yourself a favour.
Let it go!
Acknowledge that the book represents something that you want in your life and then let it go. You're not letting go of the dream, you're just letting go of one of the things standing in between you and your dream.
What am I going to do with my books? I'm going to let go of rock and roll and give the WAR of ART one last go. If I can't get past the first page and a half, don't worry, I'm letting it go. Who knows, maybe this time next year I will have rocked my roll with the best of them and covered a canvas with cows. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.
I'm so curious... What did you find on your shelf? What do you think it means? Please, please, please let me know below and if you enjoyed this, please pass it along to any friends or family you think might have books they're just not reading.
I don't think I knew how powerful this exercise would be. Within two weeks of letting go of ROCK AND ROLL WITH SAVE YOUR LIFE I was singing on stage with choir!choir!choir! in front of a packed house at the Bloor Cinema. In the last two years, I can honestly say that rock and roll (among other genres) has totally saved my life in the form of choir. It brings me so much joy every week and has given me incredible opportunities like the one I had this past March to sing with Tegan and Sarah at the Junos. Here's a link to the video of that performance:
p.s. If you're reading this and you're not on my list, you should really get yourself on the list! I send out a fun and useful email just about every week on clearing clutter and living life. Just pop on over here to get on! All the cool kids are doing it!