Friday, December 28, 2007
A Dizzying Day's Reading
I felt a sudden compulsion today to read my way to the end of the many books that crowd my bedside table, each of them somewhere between a half and nine-tenths read. I finished four of them and read a good bit of a couple more. It made for a dizzying day of abrupt shifts in mood. I walked across the Cevennes with Robert Louis Stevenson and his donkey Modestine, I travelled the Mississippi in a houseboat with the grieving Mary Morris, I revisited Sikeston, Missouri with Terry Teachout, I reviewed obesity research with Gina Kolata, I drifted in and out of the lives of the expatriate writers that people Roberto Bolano's short stories, and I paused now and again to savour one of George Murray's sonnets. Marvellous books every one of them and I'm not entirely sure why I've let them all languish unfinished for varying lengths of time. With the short stories and the poetry it's deliberate. I like to sit with a story or a poem for a while rather than rushing headlong into another, so it often takes me weeks and months to work my way through collections of short stories and poems. But what of the rest? In large measure it’s simply that I'm prone to reading far too many books at once. I'm an undisciplined reader who will read only the precise book that I'm in the mood for, so it's not unusual for me to put one book, even a very good book, aside in favour of another on a whim. Indeed, sometimes it's the very best books that I put aside at moments when I just don't have it in me to give them sufficient attention. I note though that novels are seldom to be found among the unfinished books. So evidently the narrative thread usually present in a novel can make a serial monogamist out of this promiscuous reader. And by contrast I can't help but think that I've been giving short shrift to the non-fiction books in drawing them out so long that I don't give myself a proper chance to appreciate them as wholes rather than as sums of parts. Perhaps next year I'll try not to stretch myself quite so thinly across so many books.