Thursday, July 6, 2017

Deciding what (and what not) to read 3

Life, which in my youth I found unstintingly entertaining, now felt more and more like a Smith & Wesson cocked at my head, so if I had plans to read The Decameron and Finnegans Wake before I checked out for good, I would have to start being a bit more choosy. Logically, this meant that there were great books out there that I already knew I was never going to read. Some, like Arrowsmith and Manhattan Transfer, were books that I was actually looking forward to not reading.
Joe Queenan, One for the Books

Joe Queenan
Movie trailers, intended to tease people into wanting to see the actual film, usually have just the opposite effect on me. Either the trailer tells the whole story and reveals all the best lines or it's so filled with special effects that it's a complete turnoff for someone who prefers stories about real people in real situations to stories about superheroes in comic book situations. Sometimes I find myself saying, "I can't wait to miss that." Unlike Joe Queenan, I have never said that or thought that about books.

Yet I understand Queenan when he says that advancing age changes one's perspective on books still unread. Some become higher priorities because time's running out. Others must be scratched off my mental list of books I hope to read someday. Even if I'm still alive and reading 20 years from now, there are some books, actually a lot of books, I'm just never going to get to.

Looking over my library, I notice many such books. I have two volumes of the letters of C.S. Lewis. I might possibly delve into one of them someday. But two? I have the 1938 edition of The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James. Never going to read it. Nor Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville or The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas or The Age of Reason Begins by Will and Ariel Durant.

Queenan looks forward to not reading Manhattan Transfer, but he has a better chance of reading that book than I have of reading the biography of its author John Dos Passos by Townsend Ludington. Nor am I likely to get very far into the four-volume set of A History of Private Life.

As for fiction, I don't like my chances of ever reading The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield, though his Malabar Farm is just a short drive from where I live, or Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I've read most of William Horwood's Duncton Wood trilogy, but then he wrote a second trilogy. I have it, but I don't see myself ever reading it.

I recently tried to read John Updike's Toward the End of Time. It started smartly, then it (or I) turned stupid and I gave up. I own a whole stack of Updike novels. I'm sure most of them will go unread. I like Saul Bellow better, but even so I'm sure I won't get to all of his novels, although I may want to read Henderson the Rain King for a third time before I go.

And so it goes. When I purchased them I was younger and, like Queenan in his youth, felt like all these books, and more, were within my reach. Now I know better.

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