OK, that's one down.
I just finished reading Rob Sheffield's short, wicked-good Love is a Mix Tape. And I'm bolstered, man, bolstered—flying into summer reading season ready to take on the next tome in the pile of yet-to-be-reads in my office.
Problem. The stack is 55 books high.
Do you have any idea what that looks like? I don't. This mountain of words fell over somewhere around 40 and now my spine-uncracked darlings are shoved horizontally into my bookcase here and there, like gopher heads poking out of the otherwise well-groomed rows of vertical books.
The guilt. Oh, the guilt. I feel bad for having bought books I've never read. Bad for having asked for books for Christmas that I've not so much as looked at. Bad for having had my mother-in-law ship books from Ottawa that she was culling from her massive collection—ones, gulp, I don't think I'll ever read.
And there's guilt, too, in knowing that it's once again the much-touted summer reading season. And not once in the next 70-odd days will I find myself in a hammock, with a lemonade and a free afternoon, to whittle my unread stack down to, christ, what? Fifty-four?
Get rid of some? The devil you say! I love them too much. The look, the smell, the rustling of the pages—meditate with me for a moment on the sound of a finished page sliding quietly to the left. It can only happen for a person once every few minutes. So rare. So quiet. Ah...I can't imagine the day I'll forgo the hazard of paper cuts and moving-day book-box-induced hernias, for the cold glow of a digital book device such as the Sony Reader.
Besides, even if I did muster up the courage to purge (Richler's Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! is terribly out of date, isn't it? I know Zadie Smith's On Beauty will never live up to White Teeth. And An Inconvenient Truth? I could just go rent the damn movie), there would only be more coming in to take their places, lining up at the front door like a little literary army. Next on the shelf is Harry Potter. And that's just for starters.
A friend told me recently that I ought to think of my unread books as sturdy, silent friends accompanying me through my days. I shouldn't feel guilty about their presence, he said, but rather draw strength from their promise. Last February, Globe and Mail feature writer Ian Brown also worked through his own book back-log in a story. He interviewed a second-hand-book seller in Toronto, who was 400 books behind according to his bedside reading list, and who was decidedly unrepentant. "There's no good way to cull books." A writer in Brown's piece didn't have shelves for all his books and opted to keep them in stacks around the house, or in little piles on the stairway "with all the important pages freshly open."
There are greater philosophers than Henry Rollins, but the former Black Flag front man had a nice approach to book logjams: They don't exist. You can't catch up on your reading, he said, in one of his spoken-word recordings. (I can't figure out which one and don't see any reference here in The Portable Henry Rollins, but the talking-to has stuck with me for years since I first heard it on CKDU.) Either read or don't read, Rollins said. But don't imagine there's such thing as catching up.
Kinda takes the pressure off the whole summer reading season thing, doesn't it? Perhaps I'll move that Rollins anthology to the top of the pile.
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