We all have them: piles, stacks, shelves full of books we haven’t yet read – and perhaps despair of ever reading. We look at the backs, see that God himself has recommended this or that book (he read it all in one night). The covers are artfully arranged and beguiling. Maybe someone’s written a couple of words on the title page on the inside – “Dear Maureen, thank you so much for your love, care, and for finally cleaning the effing toilet, Love, Spanky” – and you take this as a good sign. A book worth cleaning for! For missing hours and hours of sleep!
And then you realize that it’s about how often Michelangelo picked his nose, or of the desperate lives of small-town postal service workers, or that it’s 963 pages long – and there’s something on television. There is always something on television.
So why read? We can often get the same stories on the boob tube, books adapted for the silver screen. There is a lot of great storytelling done over that medium, as well; we are beginning to see stories from people who wouldn’t have gotten the chance before. I love slobbing in front of my computer, settled in for a serious marathon. In the back of my mind, though, I know I am missing something.
Books are an old friend in the way that movies have a hard time being. We certainly look back at treasured films with nostalgia, but I think it’s different with books. Movies have a hard time morphing over time: they say what they mean in that moment, and then they are through. There is something in the production, the shooting, the editing that crystallizes the story in its moment: a movie is a snapshot, but a book…
A book can beguile you, sometimes over and over, as you read it again and again. I see something new in Jane Eyre every time I read it: the play between morality and what the heart wants is an eternal struggle – as I turn the pages of the book I am struck by my own quandary, what I would have done. A book moves as you see it – perhaps placing it in the same category as quantum particles.
This year I am making my first drastic New Year’s Resolution: to stagger my way through all the books left unread on my shelf. Well. Maybe most of them. I’m not entirely sure how many books I have left to read until I hit bare shelf – and then there’s the flood of books on my kindle. I am going to ignore the boring and bloody biography of Peter the Great, which almost made me ill on a train, forever stuck at 55%. I will likely not read the ones about the Holocaust, which would likely leave me too dispirited to go on. I’ll read what I actually want to read, and I am going to ignore the books I don’t. That means that a heavy percentage of what I read will be romance novels. (Gasp! How low brow!)
If this weren’t enough of a Herculean task, I’ll be writing a blog about each book as I finish it. The aim here is not to make you skip out of your house and immediately acquire each title as I post a review – nobody’s paying me to do that, and I don’t think it’s an interesting exercise. Instead, I’m going to write down my thoughts in the most interesting way I can manage; it won’t matter whether you intend to read the books or not. I’ll dissect my romance novels. I’ll peer into novels. I’m going to make smart remarks about nonfiction.
Occasionally, I might write about something else to keep things interesting, but we are reading here. We’re getting serious. We’re the Spartans, getting ready before a battle, hair glowing in the sunlight, sharpening our swords, flexing our muscles impressively. I can feel the books on my shelf quivering already.