In my previous column here I invited a conversation about books, about what you’re reading and why. About why we pick the books we do when, in picking one, we are excluding multitudes of others. Every choice means opting out of a million “other paths.”
Which leads me to agree with Borges: heaven must be an endless library. And this: I own more books than I have time left to read. This is depressing. I don’t have time for cooking or chess or spelunking or collecting Matchbox and Corgi cars (something I actually would like to do…seriously), reality TV shows, or movies with anyone who used to be a pro wrestler, or books about things I care nothing about, and these things are legion: macramé, rap music, reimagining real people as vampire killers, right wing or religious whoopla disguised as fiction, candling, graphic junky stories, memoirs by 15 year-old pop stars, to name just a few.
In other words, with what is left of an allotted time on Spaceship Earth, I make reading decisions based on what I believe I will like.
One can never be sure, of course. I used to never abandon a book once started. My wife kept telling me, “Life is too short for bad books.” (She also says this about bad movies, bad food, bad fashion choices and toxic friends.)
So, I am starting to see things her way. I will usually give a book 100 pages and if it hasn’t engaged me totally I move on. Sometimes, when I am feeling fully self-possessed, I may quit after only 50 pages. My message to authors I abandon: come on, I gave you 50 pages! Too much choice can lead to ADD reading.
I had a friend who jumped from book to book, never finishing any of them. 30 pages of Heller, 50 pages of Atwood, 65 pages of a bio of Marilyn Monroe, 25 pages of the essays of Annie Dillard. If every choice means things unchosen, things that, who knows?, may change your life for the better, what do we rely on to get the right books into our hands? Fate, God, tarot, Uri Geller, Joel Osteen, voodoo?
Of course, since the whole world is online now — the Internet as Athenian Democracy, as Supreme Council — there are book sites where you can share recommendations. This is the global village approach to “What do I read next?” I like it, of course. I also like independent bookstores. Surprise! Talk to the clerk in a good independent bookstore. It’s a real turn-on.
At the end of my last column I put my personal email, inviting a dialog on reading. I meant it. I only got two responses. One was from a nice woman whose father, an author, used to be my next door neighbor. And the other from the author Declan Burke, thanking me for plugging his wonderful novel, Absolute Zero Cool, in the column.
I couldn’t imagine how a man living in Ireland could see my mention of his book in my neighborhood newspaper. He explained to me that the LampLighter is also online. Huh, I think I said. Imagine that.
The long and short of it is that we are now friends and this is a grand thing, an enriching thing. Here is something elevating I got from Absolute Zero Cool: “The brain is the laziest organ in the body. It is never more content than when allowing ideas to circulate along established orbits. It is a creature of habit that loves grooves, ruts and well-worn furrows, and excels at conjuring up the cheap tricks and delusions that reduce the necessity for forging new paths through the trackless universe of the imagination.”
He’s smart, my new friend, Declan, isn’t he? But, today still, I put my email at the end of the column and I invite your opinions on books. Or just tell me what you’re reading, or what you want to read. Or ask me a question.
I also love reading lists (well, I love lists of all stripe because being listless is anathema to me) so send me some recommendations, also. Ok? And, what, you are asking, am I reading now? Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. Corey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for letting me into your homes.