Before Christmas, I swore an oath, that I would buy no books until I had read the stack by my bed. This stack consists of about fifteen books which have mostly been in my possession for at least a year but which I have never gotten around to reading because there’s always a new book I’ve bought that jumps to the front of the line.
After I bought Tom Bedlam, by George Hagen, I decided enough was enough. I would buy no more books until I had finished Ethics for a New Millennium, by the Dalai Lama; The Keep, Jennifer Egan; A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth; Charles Ives: a life in music, Jan Swafford; etc., etc.
To quote Adolfo Pirelli in Sweeney Todd: “You hear dis-a foolish-a, foolish-a man. Watch and see how he will-a regret-a his folly!”
Since then, I have bought (or been given, it was Christmas, after all):
- Henry Green: Loving â€¢ Living â€¢ Party Going (three novels in one volume; one of those British novelists no one but great writers have ever heard of but who is adored by them)
- Meg Rosoff: What I Was (new young adult novel)
- China Miéville: Un Lun Dun (new children’s fantasy novel)
- Rick Yancey: Alfred Kropp: the Seal of Solomon (sequel to The Extraordinary Adventures of A. K.)
- Pink Dandelion (no, really): An introduction to Quakerism
- Marcel Kuisjten, ed.: Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (essays and research following up on The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind)
- Louis Auchincloss: East Side Story (novel of manners, by one of Them)
- Max Barry: Company (a satirical novel)
- Charles Nicholl: The Lodger Shakespeare (a look at the lawsuit in which our friend Bill was a deponent)
- Gregroy Benford: Deep Time: how humanity communicates across millennia (bought back when we Lichtenbergians were futzing around with the buried nuclear waste)
- Ellen Dissanayake: Art and Intimacy (the “prequel” to Homo Aestheticus)
One is not only forsworn, but one despairs. This list is not counting the books I am reading:
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: The Waste Books (bedside book)
- Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace (more about which in a moment)
- Ellen Dissanayake: Homo Aestheticus (which I’m discovering is hard to pick up after an extended absence)
- Patrice Hannon: 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen (bathroom reading)
What is one to do? It is ridiculous to think that I will clear out these thirty books soon, if ever. And always, always, there are new books. And bookstores. (While waiting for Ginny to finish worshipping at the new DSW shoe store the other night, I picked up the Austen and Shakespeare books at Barnes & Noble.)
So do I have a plan? No. I already had a plan: buy no new books. It failed.
Part of the problem is of course that I’m devoting all my free brain time to the symphony. I wish I could say that reading these books could provide a break from that, but that’s not realistic. Writing this blog post is taking a break, clearing out thoughts and worries from my brain; reading is an entirely additional commitment for the brain power/time continuum. So until the symphony is finished, or at least turned over to Stephen in 110 days, there will be no concerted effort at clearing out this stack.
I can and will take a stack with me to GHP to read. That is assuming of course I don’t get sucked up into finishing another movement or two of the symphony (which is, you will notice, already assuming that I’m not going to finish all four movements in the next 110 days) or the piano piece for Maila, or even the songs for Day in the Moonlight, which would be a kindness on my part. But I have been able to find time at GHP to read, believe it or not.
After the summer, I might have time to plow through some of these. But I am fooling no one, am I? This stack will never disappear. There will always be new books and new projects to keep me from reading them. I will die with a huge stack by my bed. I will probably die crushed by the huge stack by my bed.
War and Peace is a marvel. I’m halfway through it now, and it no longer feels like I’m scaling some virtuous mountain. Now when I open it, it feels like being in a warm, limitless ocean. I feel like the kids opening the wardrobe door to Narnia, returning once again to a complete world that is not my own, not without its dangers, but one that is strong and fresh and fascinating.
I’m at a curious point in the book, where all the themes and characters have been laid out like pieces on a chess board. It’s most like the end of The Two Towers, I think, where everyone is dispersed and heading off in different directions, seemingly. No one’s choices have worked out for the best, and it’s been so long since I read it before (35 years, maybe?) that, embarrassingly, I cannot remember who gets to be happy at the end. Other than Kutuzov, obviously.
Right, then. I’m going to update my reading pages, and then I’ve got a symphony to write.