I buy books in bulk. And then I stack them askew atop my night table where they hold the promise of hours of leisure time lost in a world of words. But due to my jumble of a life filled with oodles of children and work - this leisure time never comes. I read late at night in fits and starts, often falling asleep after a few pages with my “I just hit 42 and now I need these” reading glasses slipping down my nose. Unfortunately, this has led me to become a starter of many, finisher of few, with my newly purchased (or old faithful copies) well handled but never fully enjoyed cover to cover. I have to admit, I talk a big book game, yet much of what I claim readership to has merely been cracked open, at best half-read.
Some of my “starter” books I am determined to finish. I will get to the conclusion of Zadie Smith’s delicious ON BEAUTY and Edward P. Jones’ exquisite THE KNOWN WORLD. Also, I’m determined to continue wading through John Updike’s newly released Rabbit Angstrom novels (four books conveniently sandwiched into one thick tome). Updike made such an impression upon me at 17, I have to admit I’m on a quest to recreate that literary buzz and answer the question: “Do you get a second chance at literary first love? “
Others however, I don’t think I am going to tackle again until I reach another stage of maturity. Despite glowing reviews from strangers and equally glowing reviews from friends, Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD sits in this “incomplete” pile. I just couldn’t slog through it. Ditto for Orhan Pamuk’s SNOW. Although I feel I should be able to say I’ve read this one in its entirety; I’m nearly three quarters of the way through this dense tale, it traveled with me across the country several times over the summer, I’ve discussed it with several Turkish friends, and even did extra credit reading in Istanbul: Memoirs and the City on the condition of Turkish ennui, Huzun, which the novel simply oozes. Oh well, at these books look nice on my bookshelf.
Another confession: I also listen to books on tape – a habit that the erudite, literary die-hards around me look down upon, barely considering a “listen” to be an authentic read. Two great listens for me were published this season under strikingly similar titles, Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Dunne. Although I was already a fan of both authors, it was this curious title overlap that led me to snatch these two off the New Releases table at my local bookstore. And not only did I buy these together, I listened to them simultaneously as well. Making my cross town treks and endless carpool rounds through the mottled streets of Los Angeles, I would randomly pop in one of the eight CD’s sliding around my passenger seat. Depending upon the luck of the draw, I was either lulled into Didion’s elegiac memoir, a vortex of grief peppered with just enough Hollywood nostalgia to keep me from weeping inconsolably. Or I was escorted (by Augusten himself) into “Burroughs World,” where wickedly dark thoughts, razor sharp observations and just enough self-deprecation kept me listening to this collection of autobiographical short stories alone, despite the fact that I’d arrived at my destination (often my driveway at home where my kids wondered why mommy was sitting solo in the car staring into space.) I highly recommend these (in hardcover or yes, on CD), yet warn unsuspecting readers that indulging in both during the same short time span is likely to induce radical swings of the emotional pendulum.
Another perfect companion set for me this year was the one-two punch from the fabulous literary couple, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss. His - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and hers, The History of Love are two books I savored and due to an inordinate amount of time of transcontinental travel this year, am proud to say I read hard cover to hard cover. I loved these both equally and have purchased countless copies for family and friends.
As the year comes to a close, I notice my bedside library is indeed looking a bit bare. I have moments of considering leaving it that way. But no, I am not going to give up on the notion of all that leisure time I long for. Perhaps if I keep stacking the books, it will come.