Loyal as a book
More than I Can Read
Here we go:
1. A blog about books
2. In a medium whose users are indifferent to books
3. In a world where books have become increasingly irrelevant
4. By a writer who is unknown to the world of blog readers
5. A writer who senses no one cares about his tastes, fancies, insights, humor, but who simply can’t stop himself.
Am I making a case for no one to read this?
But if someone is reading it, he or she must either care a bit or are curious. Perhaps I’ll blindly wander into a world of book readers who can share and appreciate my obsessive reading experience.
How to define this obsession? That’s one of the threads of this blogging venture. I will examine the many symptoms of a drive or appetite to read as many books as I can, starting around age ten. Could I have been naïve enough to have thought I could read everything? Did I know or anticipate the enormous amount of literature out there? I was satisfied, if not confident, that my tastes were wide enough to include many genres in fiction and large quantity of nonfiction, especially historical books.
A character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel, Nausea, Ogier P., an autodidact, is reading all the books in the local library alphabetically. The project seems both admirable and pathetic. No, I don’t think I could be so systematic, as my reading habits will prove, but the scale of my reading mirrors Ogier’s project.
Evidence of my progressive desire to read everything is the increasing number of books that I own and have not read (or only partially read). This inclination started early, in my teens, as I found great pleasure on buying books. I belonged to the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild during my sophomore year in high school. In my thirties, as I started a career as a History teacher, I joined the History Book Club. These started my book surplus, as initial enthusiasms for many works (the Eastern Roman Empire, the Goths, archaeology) often died before I even started them. Because I found other books more interesting and promised myself I would eventually get to the increasing number of dust-gathering hardbacks.
The book overpopulation took off exponentially once I accessed second-hand book stores. Starting in college, most of the books I bought cost a fraction of the retail price.
Forty-years of second hand books made worse with the creation of Amazon. I had access virtually to any book ever written. And, like the search for books in New York City and Philadelphia, I reveled in tracking down many remote books.
But the ultimate testament to my obsession is the presence in my bookcases of several thousand-page books or books that are almost or feel like a thousand pages. All the books have been started but, due to age and distractions, I gave up after reading, at most, ten to fifteen present of them.
Not that I don’t have a successful history of reading very long books. In high school, at age fifteen, I read William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It took two weeks, reading eighty to ninety pages a day. Then there was Irving Wallace’s The Plot. I remember a blurb on the nine hundred-page paperback: “Only a shortage of paper will prevent this book from being a bestseller.” In my thirties, I read the nearly thousand pages of Don Quixote.
Trouble began with the eight hundred-page Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I had read V. and The Crying of Lot 49. And I motored through the early pages of his magnum opus. But around page four hundred I bogged down, I told myself I would get back to it. I did but didn’t get much further. But this didn’t prevent me from buying Mason & Dixon. Nearly eight hundred pages. I haven’t even started it after fifteen years.
The latter book reminded me of two John Barth novels I couldn’t finish: The Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy (I couldn’t get very far in his very long Letters). The first Barth book anticipated Mason & Dixon; the second intrigued me for its alleged satire of campus life at Penn State University, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, the same department where Barth worked a few years prior to my matriculation.
Mason & Dixon’s length pales beside the impossibly long narratives (and supremely small print) of
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Women and Men by Joseph McElroy
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
I have read furthest in the Rebecca West book. I return to it once a year and try to slog forward. I made it to page 200 or so.
The articles in this section represent my assessment of the works I can't get to or enough of.