(This post is a follow-up to this one.)
Ah, now we’re coming to it. I’ve reached the essay in which Nick Hornby includes a novel called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson in his list of books he purchased that month. This is bound to be the Housekeeping that takes on The Dirt in the title of his essay collection. But I don’t know anything more about it yet because he didn’t actually read the book that month. We’ll have to live in suspense a while longer.
The “Books I Bought This Month” lists are one of the things I love about these essays. Hornby begins each column with side-by-side listings of books bought and books read, on the premise that the books you want to read, intend to read, go so far as to purchase in order to read, say as much or possibly even more about you as what books you actually do read. He explored this idea in a thoughtful passage I would like to quote, but five minutes ago Scott left for the library and The Polysyllabic Spree is, alas, mine no more. I mean, it was never mine at all, but I loved it well during its tenancy under this roof. Laid it tenderly upon a tasseled velvet pillow when home duties forced me to turn away from its enchanting pages for a while.
Okay, maybe I’m laying it on a teeny bit thick. It’s just that after inviting Nick Hornby over for pizza, I went and ran off at the mouth about not liking the plot of a movie based on one of his books, and (insult to injury) not even having read the book to see if the plot is better executed in prose. It probably is. I mean, I feel no guilt over not having read all his books—after all, I’m quite sure he’s never read any of mine. We can’t all read everything, can we? I’m thinking my stuff is a wee bit outside his preferred genres. For example, I happen to know he has read Man on the Moon at least sixty times. (Cf. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt p. 34.) I’ve never written a word about astronauts, so you see how it is. So no haven’t-read-yet guilt (the yet is key: I’m sure I will someday; I am always stubbornly, delusionally optimistic about the likelihood of my getting around, eventually, to everything on my mental TBR list), but it’s probably bad form to invite someone to dinner and in the next breath start picking apart the themes of his books which you haven’t even read. Hence the velvet pillow for the books I have read.
It was nice to see, in H. v. the D., that Hornby agrees with me about the no-guilt-over-unread-books thing. About reading the classics, he says,
“There comes a point in life, it seems to me, where you have to decide whether you’re a Person of Letters or merely someone who loves books, and I’m beginning to see that the book lovers have more fun. Persons of Letters have to read things like Candide or they’re a few letters short of the whole alphabet; book lovers, meanwhile, can read whatever they fancy.”
Nonetheless, Hornby does seem to experience a fair amount of angst over books he meant to get to but didn’t and probably never will. When moving house he suffers the pangs of the book-hoarder, pangs I know all too well: there is nothing like filling up boxes with books you haven’t read yet to stir up a whirlpool of reader’s agony, the swirling currents of longing and remorse. When we were getting ready to leave Virginia and I had movers come in to give us estimates, one guy who’d been in the business for twenty-five years told me he’d never seen anyone planning to move that many books before. And this was after I’d shed a good 25% of our collection. When you’re going to be charged by the pound, those are scary words to hear. I did some more purging before the truck actually arrived, but still. We’ve got a ridiculous number of books here, and it would be swell if I, you know, actually read them someday.
Well, Nick Hornby and his recommendations aren’t helping. Neither are all those intelligent book blogs out there. I read a post today about the most recent A. S. Byatt and it was like a knife in my heart. I don’t know how I managed it, but I forgot about Byatt. Possession is one of my favorite books of all time, top five material, no question. Angels and Insects was spoiled for me by the movie (saw it first; big mistake) and the short story collection, Sugar, left me flat. But that was almost ten years ago. She has at least half a dozen novels I haven’t read yet. How could I forget her? Seriously, I’m baffled. So now I’ve got the urge to chuck my whole TBR pile and go on a mad Byatt binge.
Except that three more reserved books came in from the library today. (Gilead—which I heard about on Semicolon, I think, and was amused to see in one of Hornby’s booklists during the very same hour in which Scott was picking up my holds at the library—and The Graveyard Book and Olive Kitteridge. I don’t remember a thing about that last one, not even who recommended it.) Plus there’s the Benedict Society sequel and another Jane recommendation called Chasing Vermeer. And then—talk about guilt—this terrifying tower of review copies I’m supposed to read and say insightful things about.
Oh, it’s hopeless, isn’t it. Agony. And at the very same time, deliciously, satisfyingly tantalizing, like the hour before you sit down to Thanksiving dinner and the kitchen is full of good smells driving you crazy.
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
“What a thing it is to have an unruly family!”
“Snuggling Up to Genius”
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