Bibliophiles typically keep a list of books they would like or intend to read. This is normal.
I'm a bit backwards. For the past sixteen years, I have kept not a list of books I want to read, but rather a running list of every book I've ever read.
I no longer remember what started this cataloging obsession, just that in the early part of 1996 I opened a file in Word, called it "Books," and listed the 8 or so books I'd already read that year. Then I kept going. For sixteen years. Textbook, comic book, fiction, non-fiction... short of recording the nutrition label on cereal boxes, if I read it, it made the list.
Every entry was identical. Book title (underlined), a dash, author's name, a comma, then dd/mm/yy I finished reading it. If I'd read the book before, I would add, "re-read" in parentheses.
It became a challenge each year to see if I could top the prior year's total number of books read. I believe my best year was 84 books, my worst year 32. I usually averaged somewhere in the low 60's.
Scrolling through the screens was a quick journey through time. There--see the 6-month stretch with all the books on physical archeology? That was when I was considering a master's degree in the field. Then there was the bank of self-help books when I was doing research for Who Moved My Mouse? A Self-Help Book For Cats. There in 2004 I went on a determined bender to read only classics, but threw in the towel after Anna Karenina. (I was over the book and happy to see her jump.) And almost every year kicks off with the newest Stephen King novel.
A few weeks ago, I opened the Word document listing all these books. I had scraps of paper floating around my desk containing updates for the list and I wanted to be done with adding them to the list when it occurred to me that I was no longer deriving any pleasure from tracking my reading habits. It had become a "must do" instead of a "want to do."
And just like that, I was done. I closed the Word document, threw away the scraps of paper, and haven't looked at it since.
It's liberating. It may seem obvious to not do something you don't want to do that is, after all, non-essential, but c'mon--we're talking 16 years here. I'd considered stopping before but it seemed a waste of all the effort I'd put into keeping the list in the first place. Plus, didn't I enjoy scrolling back through the lists? Wouldn't it be fun thirty years from now to be able to see where my focus and interests were at age 41?
Eh. Not so much.
Lately I've been taking a hard look at all the "must do's" in life and re-evaluating whether or not they're working for me. I consider letting go of "the list" a small but significant victory.
It's going to be a wild year!