The rush of good intentions that floated through your system atop the bubbles of New Year's champagne have fizzled out by now, and so you're left with them. You know what I mean - the big stack, lying there, staring at you, their disarrayed spines accusing you...make them stop! MAKE THEM STOP! The publishing industry is not, contrary to rumor, dead, thanks to people like you and your grand plans. This year I'm going to finally get around to reading X. I'm excited to expand my mind and my breadth of knowledge with Y. I need to show up Bob in accounting at the next office party by knowing Z better than he does, the jerk.
But good intentions won't get 3000 pages on the etymological history of entomological study read, now will it? Here's how you can put those books you've really been meaning to read to good use, and still get all that smug self-satisfaction you'd been hoping for, without ever having to put down The Case of the Gerbil in the Night.
If you've only bought the first volume, stop now. Leave it out on your coffee table and, when guests say something infinitely witty, like "a little light reading, huh?" mention that you'd just been rereading the "Madeleine" scene, because really, the imagery there, the perfect crystallization of the act of remembering, it just gets to you. If you went whole hog already, leave out the 3rd or 4th tome instead, and respond with a "you know, I don't usually like reading literature biographically, but knowing that Albertine was really Albert just opens up the whole work." Since no one else has ever read Proust, either, there will never be any need to expound further. Between visits, it can double as a handy coaster.
The Selected Short Works of Someone BIG That You Feel Like You Should Read:
Sit down and bite the bullet...by which I mean skim the three shortest of shorts. Whenever you have a good opportunity to bring up SBTYFLYSR in conversation, dive right in with a "well ___ was certainly a fabulous novelist, and of course everyone reads [insert name of most famous novel here - no need to have read this] but I really think his/her short fiction/sketches/poetry is a much better indicator of his/her style. Take [insert title of first story you've read here]- the [choose one: mood, tone, dialogue] is just so much more [choose one: intense, powerful, clear] there than in the novels. Or take [story 2]..." Continue until your guest shuts up already.
Really? You thought you were going to read Milton this year? Are you a bigger masochist than he was? Good luck getting around to that...and when you don't, be comforted by the fact that no one wants to talk about it with you, anyway.
That Hot New NYTimes Book Review Darling:
Flip to a random page and read a paragraph or two. If it's something like this:
"She wore my shirt while we ate. Her legs poked out like birch twigs, skinny and white. We were hungry, and the food was good. We drank, too. The drink reminded her of her horrible abortion, and she cried, and I looked away, and drank more."S/he's the new Hemingway
If it's more like this:
S/he's the new Fitzgerald
"The sounds of her girlish laughter echoed around the room, tinkling like bells, the enchantment of it orbiting around her like so much stardust. Philippa watched Gregory watch her, and the sight was like watching someone cradle a gurgling infant the day you find out you're barren, or like the moment you realize that it's not the online edition of the Times he's looking at, but a sort of pornography that makes even hardened criminals cringe away reflexively. It was like bitter almonds and unbrushed teeth and yet the surge of it at the back of her throat let her know that she loved him more than ever."
If it's something like:
"the coldhearted smell of the cigarettes wafting from the counter, behind it the waitress, fat in the belly, almost like a pregnancy, but she wasn't pregnant, she was hiding the hatred in there, the hatred of all those years with a man who took the money she earned on her back and bought smokehouse whiskey with it and loose women, and on the other end the men laughing about how they hated different ethnic groups, their slanted teeth and their slanted hats and their slanted mouths dripping with egg yolks..."and it keeps going on and on and on like it's being narrated by a kindergartner with ADD and dyslexia...S/he's the new Faulkner.
Venture the opinion that, while talented, you think New Young Thing is overrated, and that really it's only the critics' desire to create the next Hemingway/Fitzgerald/Faulkner that's getting everyone so worked up.
Your Remainder Table Mistake:
A biography on the inventor of both the Bagel Bite and the generic form of Yaz, only $3.50? Too interesting to turn down! Oh, wow, you would love something esoteric like that collection of abridged excerpts from 18th century German romanticists. Just the sort of knowledge-broadening volume you've been looking for, when it's only $6.75!
Just be honest. Pull the slip cover off to make your 13th reading this year of True Stories of Animal Rescues look better for your subway ride, and use the book to help prop up the leg of the dining room table that you cut off the last time your animal rescued itself from the tyranny of the litter box. One more trip to the bookstore and this lady's ready to host dinner parties again. We can discuss Proust, if you like...