Monday 7 June 2021

Blogjune Day 7 - my TBR pile

Continuing on yesterday's theme of catching up, I've spent much of the past year catching up on my "to be read" - or TBR - pile of books.

It would have been during last year's lockdown that I faced the fact that a large proportion of my bookshelf contained books that I'd never read. Whilst this certainly isn't unusual for many in my social circle, the librarian in me decided that enough was enough, and it was time for some proper collection management.

That is, either I read those books that I always intended to read, or off they go to Lifeline to sell at the bookfair.

The rules are simple:

  • Pick up a book from the shelf that I haven't read
  • Proceed to read the book
  • If the book hasn't grabbed me by page 50, then I'm allowed to let it go in the box to Lifeline
  • If, at the end of the book, I'm unlikely to ever read it again or recommend it to anybody - again, Lifeline.
  • Otherwise, it can go back onto the shelf.
  • Repeat
  • Don't buy any more books in the interim (with a couple of exceptions, ie the next in a series that I'm reading comes out, or I'm at a book launch)
This has been a remarkably effective way of (a) motivating myself to read those books that I never got around to, and (b) realising why I was subconsciously avoiding that book!

I have recently reached the point where I've most of the 'fun' books on my TBR pile... Cormac McCarthy's The Road is still waiting for my attention, but for now I've started moving on to some of my non-fiction collection. After wizzing through Clara Bensen's No Baggage (a particularly nostalgic read, as we count the months before the international borders are likely to re-open), I've decided to take on something with more heft - The Fog of Peace, Jean-Marie Guehenno's memoir of his time as the Under-Secretary General for UN peacekeeping operations.

It's not a light read - especially for somebody like me who doesn't come from an international relations background - though after a while, I begin to get a feel for the blow-by-blow accounts of diplomatic issues in the international sphere, and definitely gain an appreciation for the sheer level of complexity in managing the many relationships involved. But something in his introduction that struck a chord with me was describing how he had come from an academic understanding of peacekeeping, and had a reputation as an intellectual, but needed to assert himself as a capable operator.

Something that I've thought a lot about these past years are these strange dichotomies that we often try to connect. Whether it's between between practice and theory, operational and strategic, support and substantive. For the longest time, I've worked in day-to-day operational roles, whilst trying to make the transition to something more strategic and influential. At the same time, there are plenty of times where I've been critical of those who make the big decisions, because they are based more around practical and operational efficiency rather than upholding idealistic principles of altruism and progressing cultural development.

Everything's all well and good in theory, until I'm the one who actually needs to carry it out - and I realise that by saying that, I'm sounding like an apologist for everything awful that's happening in the world - which is not my intention! So, instead, I'll end with a Hamilton quote: 'Winning is easy, young man. Governing is harder.'

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