BUTLER pic The Unfinished List January 12


The Unfinished List by Brittany Butler



  • Books in print and left unread; usually delegated to a specific location – i.e. the bedside, a bookshelf or ummmm, the bathroom.
  • Finished digital samples of books that are never purchased but are not deleted.
  • Any e-book downloaded in full and taking up space in the cloud with furthest page read well under 100%.
  • See other examples below.

 BUTLER pic The Unfinished List

They wait… And wait… And wait…

Some taunt us from time to time.


How can you justify spending $8.99 and abandoning me at 16%?  I’m so much more than 16%, is what they might say if they could talk but most likely they did not speak to us which are why they lie dormant collecting digital dust.


What’s the rush?


I’ve had Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings on my dresser for months.  Actually she has spent years being shuffled around spaces in the various places I have called home.  When I first nabbed her in paperback and on sale, I was in no rush to read so I stuck her on a shelf.  Here and there I’d pick at her in college and skim lines like, “all knowledge is spendable currency, depending on the market,” Well-written truths that terrified me.


I knew early on how richly descriptive and beautifully articulate that book was.  I knew that it had the capacity to rattle me; an undisputed core-shaking, game-changing kind of life story.


It’s no doubt a modern classic and a must-read!  But back then my experiences were limited and my reading life unready to comprehend what little knowledge I could compare to it.  Nowadays I know better now and am ready to take her on.  Yet in the past year I’ve continued to choose others over her.  I’ve laughed with Jim Gaffigan and been wowed by Meg Wolitzer.  I have been reading and seeing everything John Green and when I mentioned that fact to a friend, she nearly beheaded me with her biting commentary about forgoing a long beloved book for a more popular YA pick of today.  I was my choice to pack up Maya again in the same glass display case where many of my others sit cherished, often started and left to sit unfinished.


So what does that say about me as a reader?


It means Maya is my savings.


That’s what she is.  It’s how I think of her and The Count of Monte Cristo and Slaughterhouse Five.  I’ve been saving these reads for living.  They are the sure things in my reading retirement plan.


There are stacks of books around my home that I know I want to read at some point in my life.  When I start one and it seems that something is holding me back, I stick it on the shelf or remove it from device so it’s left safely stored in my cloud.  I know hidden in the pages of these books are secrets I’m not ready to have revealed.  There are words I don’t want to just understand in context; I want them to ruminate and stick permanently in my subconscious.  I believe in literary magic where some books are deemed so fantastic, considered classic even, and I want their spells cast luminously when the time is right.


A decade ago I found it too hard to keep up with the tippity-tap beat poetry raps of Kerouac because I had never been anywhere except Florida twice and one five hour road trip to Iowa City.  Back then my friends and I were all broke and lived our early twenties sheltered.  Years later I settled down and had babies leaving my time reserved for Seuss-style rhymes aplenty.  And that’s okay.   One day I know all the places I will go will let me appreciate On the Road like a real traveling raconteur would after my kids are much older.


I’m maybe less than a decade away from being able to pick up one of my many scary Stephen King’s written works without feeling fidgety and dreadfully cautious.  I believe in his majesty’s brilliance and have hoarded every bit of his humorist essays from mostly his Entertainment Weekly days but I have never stuck his books on a shelf.  I’ve tossed them frantically across rooms and hid them in boxes so they can’t get me.


There’s no shame in the abandonment of books like these because for me it’s only temporary.  I like to keep my reading well full enough that it will never dry up.  When I feel it’s time, I will hit up Hemingway.  I know he’ll be there with truth and introspective enlightenment for me.  Many of the timeless lady greats – Plath, Woolf, the Bronte’s, all of whom shaped the literary landscape way before me – stand waiting, watching over my desk along with Tina Fey and Gillian Flynn.  Two girls capable of capturing my attention and admiration and whom I consider classics of my own choosing.


Classics are called so because they are the best of the best.  The highest quality of writing by the most outstanding authors ever known is not something to just bucket list.


I’ve done my time.  As a child, I slurped down everything playfully obscure from Dahl.  Post elementary school years, I sleuthed alongside Sherlock in London’s underground and around the Scottish yards.  Originally I was a few years late on the new Potter party having showed up just after Rowling published Book #4.  I did catch up on everything boy magic just in time to wait in line for the release of The Order of the Phoenix.  I salivated over The Half-Blood Prince while waiting tables and during my first year teaching.  I took my time in the weeks before my wedding with the release of The Deathly Hallows


That series presto changed it all for me.   I knew right then it was a classic in the making.  There was proof that a well-rounded reading life is varied between the just published first editions and golden anniversaries.  How lucky are we to be living in an age that lets us balance both ends of the good book spectrum!  One side has some of the best books by authors who are currently blogging and tweeting and right within the reader’s reach!  And on the other end, our kindles are all aflame with many of the oldies available for free!


So I read a lot and switch it up often and write about it honestly.  Truth be told, there are books I ditch because they are just not for me.  But then there are many books I leave somewhere safe believing that one day I will grow up enough to benefit fully from them.  They make up my unfinished list.  Books like the ones above and Fahrenheit 451 and The Goldfinch.  Books to read in the order that I please and finish when I’m good and ready.


Brittany Butler is reader for life and a teacher on break!  She lives in Chicago with her two young sons and their growing book savings accounts.  Her husband prefers to read only her unpublished books, unfinished manuscripts, and her polished blog posts.  She writes weekly about her reading life and their lovely alliterated life at www.abitofanalliterate.com