This time of year, my book gluttony swells to impossible dimensions—everyone sharing their last year’s reading lists, all the Best Of lists floating around. Stop looking, I tell myself: stop until you’ve finished even half, even a tenth of the books you’ve already got queued in the TBR stacks. It’s no use my vowing to acquire no new books until I’ve read all (or a tenth) of the ones I have waiting here in these crowded quarters—I’m too greedy, too eager to read them all, all, all.
Books make billionaires of all of us—such a wealth of stories left to read; we’re all rich in this way, even the most dogged bookworms. There are always millions of stories left to read. We’ll never spend all this splendid capital, none of us.
When I make lists of the books I Absolutely Intend to Read in the Near Future, I never do. Not until years later when I’ve drawn up Yet Another List full of entirely different titles. So I won’t make a list right now, despite the persistent urge to do exactly that. This year I’m reading with complete abandon, no plan, no agenda, no sense of obligation. I’ve got at least half a dozen books going this very minute. And that’s not counting read-alouds (and read-alongs) I’ve got in the works, or planned, with kids.
I enjoy writing about books I’m in the thick of more than writing about them after I’ve finished. By then I’m on to the next tome, and that’s where my thoughts are. I had heaps of things to say about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie last month, five pages in, but when I’d finished, I wanted to sit quietly with it for a bit. Scott got on earful on our walk that first morning—how amused/amazed I was at Muriel Spark’s skill, her curious repetitions of phrase in describing the girls of Miss Brodie’s set: Rose, who was famous for sex; Sandy with her little eyes. In anyone less masterful, this intrusive technique would have been annoying at best, groanworthy at worst, but Spark’s control of language is exquisite and precise. I tried to explain to Scott how manipulated I felt, not in a negative sense (though that word nearly always carries a negative connotation) but in the sense of being subtly directed to form certain impressions of the characters, as an accomplished rider might invisibly direct a horse with gentle pressures and nudges. And there’s Miss Brodie nudging and directing her girls, shaping their minds toward her preferred vision—Spark’s structure is brilliant; “She’s Miss-Brodying me!” I told Scott. And then gradually, gradually, you’re allowed to step back and think your own thoughts, alongside mutinous, insightful Sandy with her little eyes. I know Sandy is insightful because Miss Brodie said so. Oh, Muriel Spark, you wicked genius you. Please manipulate the world in such a way that I might have a week alone with your body of work, won’t you?
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