If you’ve been reading the blog regularly (thanks, Mom!), you remember my last discussion about deciding what to read. Well, I had an epiphany the other day. I had volunteered to work at a book talk in San Francisco, and while I stood there at the back of the room listening to the author (a famous comedian) and the moderator talk, I realized that I was not going to buy either of their books. The piece that the author read was funny, and I think that if I had bought it and read it, I would find it enjoyable, but right this minute, I won’t be able to read the books I already own before I die.
Meanwhile, I keep going to events like AWP, Litquake, and Bay Area Book Festival, as well as various smaller events where one is faced with the possibility of acquiring more books. I’ve realized that I have one of three choices:
1. I can make this book a priority.
I have done this with various books for various reasons, including that the author was a personal friend and has asked me for a review or a blurb, or I have heard from multiple trusted sources that the book is extraordinary and therefore worth reading. Books like these get to jump the queue of my reading list and go straight to the top. 2666 had to wait its turn, but H is for Hawk jumped to the head of the line. I’m not sure what I’ll read after it, but I have lots to choose from.
2. I can lie to myself about whether I’ll ever read this book.
A few times a year, I’m invited to an event where there are press galleys of books available. Normally, there’s an enormous table or a jumble of boxes, and there’s a single copy of each book. I can be counted on to take home an armload of books, because heck, they’re free, and I think to myself at the time that I might read them. But, although the book might sound interesting, and in fact might even be the best thing I’ve ever read (I’m always open to that possibility), they are put at the very end of the queue, behind the 2-year stack of The New Yorker taking up an inordinate amount of shelf space. Many of those books are likely to languish, having never seen the light of my beside lamp.
3. I can be honest with myself and not buy the book.
This was the epiphany I had. I knew I wasn’t going to read the famous comedian’s book, because I’d rather read Neal Stephenson’s new book Seveneves, or Italo Calvino’s The Complete Cosmicomics, or Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters, all of which are sitting on my shelf, pristine, waiting their turn. If a friend were to come to me with their book and ask for a review, or if I were to hear five friends all recommend the same book, that book would be purchased and jump to the front of the queue. My future grandchildren will be pawing through my library wondering why Gamma (no, it’s not a typo, I’m just a very high-energy kind of person) has so many beautiful, pristine books, when I’d much rather they be reading my annotations in the margins, or wondering why I put five exclamation points next to this or that passage.
The realization that I will never be able to read all the books I want equates to the realization of my own mortality. The lights will grow dim, the words indistinct, and I will leave this world with so many books unread, but not unloved.