Christmas 2010 I bought this for Mrs P because she loves Susan Hill’s books:

It’s a memoir of Hill’s year spent reading only books she already had sitting on the shelves of her home.

Fast forward through the next twelve months, during which at least one of the following statements was made by Mrs P every time new books arrived via the post (which she collects) or over the ether to my Kindle (many repeated more than once over the period):

‘Not more books.’

‘You must have more books than you can read before you die.’

‘Someone’s been on Amazon again.’

‘Do you actually need anymore books?’

‘It’s Christmas everyday for you, isn’t it?’

‘There’s only so many books anyone needs, even you.’

To put these comments in perspective I should tell you that my wife loves books, she’s an English teacher. She herself has shelves of unread novels and non-fiction waiting patiently for her attention. For her to make the above comments takes pretty exceptional circumstances, circumstances like these. Since starting on my OU course in Creative Writing back in 2008 I had been buying more books; short-fiction, writing texts, novels, non-fiction for research, you name it, I’ve been buying it. My increased appetite for books (and to be fair I was already a pretty extravagant book buyer) developed at the same time as my renewed focus on my writing. And it isn’t just the bookshelves that are groaning under the weight of my unread reading material. My Kindle too is full of intangible books requiring my attention. The rapidly growing piles of books all across the  house could not continue unabated. I was even beginning to feel guilty myself about not reading this stuff.

One of the many shelves of unread books requiring my attention (with the exception of Being Dead, a fave of mine that is on this shelf to prompt a re-read, and The Invisible Man, which is a new copy with an intro I want to read)

Just before new year we were talking about this, a discussion prompted by my downloading about thirty books on the Kindle from their 12 Days of Christmas sale, during which I made an at-the-time flippant comment about maybe doing a Susan Hill. My wife wasn’t sure what I meant. I reminded her of the book I bought her the previous Christmas, Howard’s End is on the Landing.

‘I should do like she does in that memoir and spend a year not buying books. I should just read stuff already on the shelves and on my Kindle,’ I said.

‘Bet you can’t,’ my wife replied.

And so the challenge was set. We worked out a series of simple rules:

  • I am allowed to receive books as gifts/or review copies.
  • I can buy any texts NECESSARY for my MA
  • If I buy anything else then I have to cook all meals for a week. (I hate cooking. This is the best kind of motivational threat for me).
  • The period of time must be exactly one year.

Long story short: I can buy a book again on the 1st January 2013.

I am now onto the third week of the challenge and am finding the experience refreshing. I have already read one book that has been sat on my shelf for far too long a while (The Pearl by John Steinbeck) and am enjoying picking out stuff from my shelves and dipping in to see what takes my fancy. The plan is to clear the massive pile of short fiction collections I have amassed in the last few years, along with a fair few classic novels that I should really have read or re-read by now. Not sure what I am going to tackle next novel-wise, at the moment it’s a fight between Anne Enright’s – The Gathering, Mrs Dalloway and Robinson Crusoe, but that could change as something on the shelf or in my Kindle collections catches my eye. The time I save trawling Amazon for new purchases should free up a big chunk of reading time too. It sounds easy now but looking at this list and this list of upcoming publications for 2012, the real test is going to be when something by one of my favourite authors is released. In the meantime, I apologise if you have a book out this year, but I am prohibited from buying it, however fabulous it might be. That said, you could always bung me a review copy.

I would also point out the  irony of this challenge being inspired by a book my wife owns and has yet to read, but that would be churlish. And anyway, I have to go. Mrs Dalloway is on the landing, saying something about flowers.