You can have conflicting short-term and long-term goals, right? I want to lose weight over the longer term, but I want that milkshake RIGHT NOW! With that in mind, the sentiment I want to begin with today might not be so bad. I like to read books I really don’t want to read.
How does that work? Well, five friends and I started meeting as a book group in 1983. There aren’t many long-lived book groups. Most book groups are women’s book groups. In the fall of 2013, we will begin our 30th year. One of the friends was my employer at the time, an Oregon state legislator. One was an education lobbyist in the 1983 legislative session. They and their wives and I and my wife were the six people. The next year, each couple chose to invite another person or another couple and very soon we were a group of 12, which is our current number. Four of the original six are still members. Here is the most recent picture of us, missing only three. That’s the Pacific Ocean behind us. The Sylvia Beach Hotel, famous for its author-themed rooms, is stage right.
We choose books for what I have recently been calling “the reading year.” There are many different fiscal years; there are calendar years; there are liturgical years. Why not a reading year; an RY? Following the practice of the federal fiscal year, I propose we date the year by the ending date, so we are just entering RY 2012. We choose books from October to September. That’s the RY. At the September meeting, we will discuss the last book of RY 2011—it is Daniel Schorr’s Staying Tuned—and complete our balloting for RY 2012.
Let me start with the truly shocking news. Not everyone in the group shared my taste in books. You heard it here first. People nominate books I have never heard of and some of which I find really unattractive. We have read books of poetry by poets I didn’t like. We have agonized over the impoverished or otherwise distorted childhoods of people who grew up to write nostalgic or angry reflections on that time. We have read children’s stories. One month, long ago, we read supermarket tabloids.
In the process of reading books someone else thought were important and interesting, I have become interested in books I would never have read. Further, some of the books I have read and never did become interested in have nevertheless benefitted me. I look back on “having read them” with a pleasure entirely incommensurate with the pain of actually reading them—or with the prospect of reading another such book. So I like reading books I didn’t want to read and nearly every year, the books that have real merit form a larger fraction of the total list.
Tell you what. Don’t take my word for it. Here is the list of books from which we must choose nine for RY 2012. Pretty cool, huh?
 I just spent a little time trying to verify those assertions, but I can’t do it in the time I have. The way I remember it, women’s groups are most numerous, followed by couple’s groups and, distantly, by men’s groups.
 I say “complete our balloting” because there will have been at least one round of electronic balloting by the time we meet on September 24. We need nine books and if we have chosen fewer than nine in the electronic balloting, which has been the case every time so far, the remainder of the books will be chosen by old-fashioned put your paper ballot in the jar politics. And by old-fashioned politicking as well.