Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why Didn't I Read That?

Reshelving books at our new place today, I marveled at how many books I bought and never got around to reading. Some of them, like Mann's Doktor Faustus, I started but got hung up on somehow. (That one was a post-Magic-Mountain mellow that got harshed. I will have to try it again, though.) Some are recommendations from friends, which I was assured I would like but then took a gander at, post-purchase, and kinda went meh. (Example: Catherine Scheine's To The Birdhouse.) Most, however, are books by authors I was reading through on a tear, and so I bought everything by them I possibly could, and then got sick of them from overreading. There is a lot of unread Stanley Elkin because of this phenomenon.

I got wondering about literary taste in general--how unpredictable it is, even your own. Not just taste, but the impulse to read. There are times when I couldn't imagine not wanting to read, say, a crime novel by a favorite writer of mine--and then, days later, with one in my hands, feeling disappointed, not just by the book itself (in fact, perhaps not at all by the book itself) but by the experience.

I guess what I'm saying is that the experience of thinking about, buying, owning, and holding a book has a lot to do with whether I actually read it or not. A good book will always sink in, even if the start is rocky, if I push myself. But I've gotten all the way through bad books because I was having a good time reading them, and I've thrown aside excellent ones because I wasn't. Faustus is a good example there. The trappings of reading will forever cause Jim Crace's Quarantine to, in my mind, be associated with the inside of an airplane; the heist novels of Richard Stark will always remind me of my grandmother's apartment in Florida; and whatever I read tonight might well always put me in the mind of wondering why I never read all those books I bought.

3 comments:

bhadd said...

Goethe may have all our problems like pins, waiting plucking and throwing out. I want Faust translations to keep that quality he possesses, doesn't everybody wish Faust English.

bhadd said...

Goethe may have all our problems like pens, waiting shaking and flowing out. Mann, I think of later!

Jonathan said...

Heh... I am exactly this way. I own a lot more books than I've read.