Our Reading Lives

What to Do With Orphan Books: A New Year’s Conundrum

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Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail, Tor.com, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at www.mattgrantwriter.com or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

Ahhh, another year, another opportunity to make new reading goals. Another chance to add new reads to your To Be Read pile. An opportunity to look for what new and exciting titles will be coming out. You know, the books everyone will be reading and you just have to get your hands on.

It’s all very exciting. Except if, like me, you’re still also trying to catch up on all of last year’s must-read titles.

I’m someone who likes clean finishes and fresh starts. If I finish a book in December and have a week or so left in the year, I will purposely choose a book that I know I can finish by New Year’s Eve. I love starting a brand new book on January 1. It’s just so gratifying. Things make sense. All is right with the world. It’s going to be a good year.

If I’m still trying to finish a book from last year by the time the new year rolls around, I feel like a slacker. It sort of feels like it did in high school or college when I was overdue on homework. I mean, from what I was told by my friends, of course. That…never happened to me.

But anyway, it also doesn’t feel like cheating. You start a book on January 1, you count it towards that year. But what about a book that you started in 2017, and finished in 2018? Where does that book belong in your reading lists?

You can count it towards the year you started it, but that just feels wrong. You can count it towards the year you finished it, but you know you didn’t read that entire book that year. Do you really want that on your conscience? You can count it towards both, but that just makes you a lying monster.

They’re true orphaned books, eternally banished to a weird, inter-year purgatory.

I had this exact problem recently. After traveling home for the holidays, the bitter Illinois winter kept me inside for most of the week. Something about watching Netflix at your parents’ house just feels different, so I blitzed through a book I was reviewing. I finished it on the plane returning to New York, which was December 30. Which meant-gulp-the prospect of an entire New Year’s Eve back home with nothing to read. The horror!

So, I cheated. A little bit. On New Year’s Eve, I read the first chapter of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Givewhich I’d checked out from the library before I left. I rationalized this for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t wait another day to start it, since it was due back at the library soon, and I’m a notoriously slow reader, and 2. It was only one chapter.

But, still. That shame will be with me this entire year. I’ll count it towards 2018, and I could fudge the start date on my Goodreads, but c’mon, I’ll know the truth. At the end of the year, will I really be able to say I read it this year? Will I really be able to look people in the eye and tell them I met my reading goal?

Or am I just thinking about all of this way too much?

I’d love to hear from some of you. What do y’all do about orphan books? Do you count a book towards the year you started it, or the year you finished it? Am I the only one that hates having books straddle two years?