Thursday, September 2, 2010

Interpretation as Action

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been entering bookstores with a certain amount of trepidation. Even the most casual and fleeting visit brings to mind my many lapses of judgment. All the books I should have read (but haven’t), and all the books I did buy (but shouldn’t have) begin to loom large in my consciousness, and I end up feeling vaguely embarrassed and not a little guilty.

If you’re anything at all like me – a reader who compensates enthusiasm for discrimination – you will understand what I mean when I say that I read well, but not wisely. I have long accepted that my reading is, and will continue to be, erratic and all-too-embracing. I have a terrible habit of letting new books languish on the backs of shelves while I borrow something else from libraries and friends. I go back to books months, or even years after I’ve first bought them.

Lately, I’ve come to realize that the books I buy function less as potential reading material, than as a collective index for my momentary good intentions and passing fixations. My collection of books is not a catalogue of what I’ve read, but a catalogue of where I’ve been, what I’ve been interested in, and what I felt I should know more about.

For instance, over the past couple of months, I’ve bought autobiographies of master chefs, historical fiction about a clique of American poets who were inspired by hummingbirds, a satirical campus novel, an alternative history of the Hindus and tomes on fashion illustration. Having completed only one of these, I am now planning to embark on an overview of African-American art during the Harlem Renaissance, and on a survey of the evolution of DC Comics. But even as I'm writing this post, I notice I have Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore,’ at arm’s length. I bought it almost a year ago.

You call it an attention deficit, I call it catholicism. There’s no such thing as buying too many books. Especially when you can find a way to derive something interesting from a collection without having read any of it. It’s a useful (and guilt relieving) trick. 


Tal Benisty said...

I started suffering from the same affliction some time ago. My rule (which I consistently break) is

One. Book. At. A. Time.

It's the only way that has worked for me.
As soon as you have even one book unread on your shelves while you're reading another one, kapow, unread books will start piling up on your shelves.

One at a time.
Just like lovers.

It's hard, but it's worth it.

TJ said...

Why do I think that the lovers part of that suggestion would be infinitely easier to implement than the books part?

Maybe because one is a problem I don't have, and the other is a problem I'm not ready to solve :)

TJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Creative Commons License
This work by ToruJ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.