“So Many Books, So Little Time”

July 12, 2008 at 7:14 am | Posted in Books About Books, Nonfiction | Leave a comment

(December 28, 2007)

Sara Nelson wrote the book on a sentiment I’ve expressed so many times myself.  How can we ever hope to read everything we want to?  She sets out to read one book a week for a year, and write about the book and how it fits in with what’s going on in her life.

The book begins, “Call me insomniac,” echoing Melville.  Here is something we have in common; I can never seem to sleep, either.  I laughed when she described turning the light back on after tossing and turning, reading for a while, trying to sleep again, then turning on the light again.  We also both read obsessively and try to force books on the unwilling men in our lives.

The great debates of book readers are addressed:  the ethics of lending and borrowing; the logistics of reading multiple books at once; whether, or when, to give up on a book; whether to read the book or watch the movie first; and of course what books to be seen reading where.  We see that there is much more to the practice of reading than simply absorbing text.

I hadn’t read most of the specific titles mentioned, and some of them weren’t really up my alley.  Yet the charm of the book lies, unlike in Book Lust, not in cataloguing and promoting titles, but rather in the selection process and Nelson’s description of how her reading matter fit in with her life.  (Watch out for spoilers, though).

It’s funny how people can be so similar and so different at the same time.  For instance, neither of us had a problem reading a book a week.  She doesn’t like history, true crime, horror, or poetry, and isn’t very excited about children’s literature (including Harry Potter!) – all categories I love.  Yet we both face the same reader’s dilemmas, like what to do when you’re packing for vacation with only 50 pages left in a really good book.  Or, do you re-read a book you loved in your youth, only to risk spoiling your memory?  Do you force yourself to finish a book that you’re having trouble getting into, just to check it off your list?  Can you reject a friendship because the other person’s literary tastes embarrass you?

I would say, yes, finish the slow-starting book, though it’s probably best to wait to start it if you’re not in the mood.  I ran into that problem with The Magic Mountain, and found a better translation that made it a real page-turner for me.  On the other hand, I advise against re-reading books.  If you’re nostalgic for childhood, just read a new children’s book or one you missed back in the day.  (I still haven’t read Peter Pan).  I can’t really understand the point of re-reading a book, when there are so many books I haven’t yet read that could be my new favorite.  I’m trying to keep my current list below 700.

The all-important point about books and friendship?  Assume you will have some non-literary friendships and leave it at that.  If you have friends who read escape fiction or military history or whatever else you scoff at, just be glad they won’t ask to borrow your books.  And if they try to lend you something, tell them you just got your eyes dilated or you’re getting ready to fumigate your apartment.

I never have come up with an answer for the almost-finished pre-vacation book, though.

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