My Reading Life: How Many Books?

Dear Reader:

I’m starting week three of this blog.  Thank you to all of you who are reading, commenting upon, and linking to my blog!  I’ve enjoyed making new book fiend friends.

This blog has been my first foray into blogdom and I’m having a lot of fun.  It continues to motivate me to make time to read, to think about what I’m reading, and to find new ways to tell you about it here.

I just published a blog entry that is a list of the books I’ve mentioned in my blog this year and those that I will be reading.

Wow, I’m already at 53!  And I’ve just gotten started.

I have so many more books that I want to read.  I’m hoping that I read more than one book a week, but over the past three weeks when I’ve been focused on reading, I’ve only finished four books.  Keep in mind that this is not all I’ve been reading: I’m reading #12 The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen and #11 The Death of the HeartThe Collected Stories is long: 783 pages and 81 stories plus a preface.  How am I going to get through my list and be able to add all the extra stuff I want to read?

This brings me back to some of the things that are helpful about having this project and blog.  I’m starting to realize just how many books I have relative to how much time I have to read.  I have A LOT of years of books.  Maybe ten years worth…. yikes.

These are just some of my books.

The non-book stuff is dog and cat stuff.

It is also helping me to realize how much I can actually read.  So, when I have goals of reading Cather, Bowen, Proust, Zola, Pym, Woolf, Murdoch, Brookner, (Penelope) Fitzgerald, all mysteries written by someone with a Scandinavian last name plus all the ones by Ngaio Marsh, Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, (Mildred) Walker, Flaubert, Balzac, Sarah Orne Jewett, Henry James, Wilkie Collins, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Dorothy Whipple (keep in mind I’ve read all of Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Sue Miller, and Alice Munro), plus dog-related books….  this could take a couple (or ten or twenty) years…  I honestly didn’t realize this.

I have no idea how many books I’ve been buying a year, but clearly, some years, I’ve bought hundreds.  For example, my kindle has about 500 books on it and I’ve only had it two years… granted, at least 300 were free or very inexpensive, but still.  The thing that is great is that I’ve built up a very nice library of the stuff I love, on topics about which I am passionate (or used to be passionate), by writers I adore.  This brings me to the fact that I’ve bought NO books in three weeks.  Because of this blog.  And that is an accomplishment!

The other thing that has been helpful about this blog, and relates to the above points, is that I’m realizing that I need to focus my reading – if I really want to make my way through these authors, then I don’t have a lot of time for other stuff.

However, at this time, I’m also reading:

54) Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby (movie critic for the New Yorder – he’s the one, as opposed to Anthony Lane, who appears to actually enjoy watching movies).

Great Books has been in my library for years.  It was part of a stint of buying and reading books about books, libraries, and bookstores (this will be a later post).  Somehow, I never got around to reading this one and forgot I had it until it popped up in my Amazon recommended list, prompting me to say to myself “That cover looks awfully familiar.”

And indeed, there it was…  The book is the story of his return, as a forty something professional writer (movie critic for New York magazine at that time), to Columbia University where he was an undergraduate decades before.

In particular, he returns to take the freshman sequence in Lit Hum (Literature Humanities) and C.C. (Contemporary Civilization) which have a “Great Books” curriculum that shifts a bit from year to year, but mostly remains fairly stable.

I was drawn to the book for two reasons.  First, it is similar to my adventure this year – he’s spending a “year” (really, two academic semesters) reading classics carefully and writing about it and I’m spending a year reading classics (and mysteries and dog books) carefully and writing about it here.  Also, I started my college career at the University of Chicago with its famous great books curriculum.  I’ve always loved the idea of great books somewhat more than I enjoyed reading some of them.  He’s somewhat the same and figures that this will motivate him to return to the texts and absorb them more fully.

I enjoy his writing (I’ve read his reviews for years).  He intermingles some really great discussions of the point of things like the Illiad and the Odyssey with talk about his classmates, the teachers, his life (he is married with two boys) and other topics.  Somehow, he brings both his struggles with these meaty, “antiquated” texts and the texts themselves to life.

Since I (as you may have noticed) favor reading fiction by women, I’ve been thinking a lot about his discussion of Homer (he also goes on to read Sappho briefly, I’m still at the beginning of the book).

Homer’s books are VERY male.  He focuses on war and sex and high adventure and battles and fighting and violence….  Suffice to say, I do not find these topics inherently interesting.  I did read the Odyssey a long time ago (for a Greek myths class) and I remember enjoying it.  I think I would have a very hard time getting drawn into it now.

My taste tends to run to work written by women describing relationships with dogs, friends, spouses, what have you.  I have the same taste in movies.  Action films, sci fi, fantasy, animated films: all these genres, generally, with few exceptions, bore me.

And yet I recognize the great value in understand the great books that have shaped thinking (at least in the West) and had the weight to carry great meaning over the millenia or centuries.

Denby is talking about how working his way through the classes and books affects him.  This is interesting.  He also has the inspiration of a couple of great teachers of the classes for which he is reading the books.  (Not to mention the comedy of being a forty something male surrounded by vacant 18 year olds.)  He weaves in the themes introduced by these “master” teachers who are pros at bringing the books to life for a reluctant audience.  And in the process, he conveys the importance of the individual texts for thinking about who we are: as individuals, over history, as a society(ies)…

Happy reading!  Ruby

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