Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When You've Read All The Books

"The flesh is sad, alas, and I've read all the books," (La chair est triste, helas, et j'ai lu tous les livres) yawned the French poet Stephane Mallarme a hundred years ago.  He was a young man then, and his wife had just had their first child, but he got bored easily.

It's taken me longer to get to that point--to the book part, that is--but lately I've been feeling depressed about reading.  It's not that I've read all the books, of course--neither had Mallarme.  But I've read an awful lot of them, probably too many, and now I'm like a foodie who's tired of fancy food. 

I feel as if I've read all the dead authors, and the living writers I do like don't write fast enough to feed my habit.  Kate Atkinson, A.S. Byatt, Nick Hornby, Penelope Lively, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, get on with it!  You're not getting any younger, and I'm almost to the end of everything that Trollope ever wrote.  Please write faster!

Meanwhile, the great annual book sale for the benefit of the village library is coming up next weekend.  It's held at the local school's gym, which is crammed full of cafeteria tables loaded with thousands of books, from novels to manuals on auto repair. 

The minute you walk in the door, you see everybody you know, carrying cardboard boxes and tote bags and pulling shopping carts.  When the books they've chosen get too heavy to carry, they stack them up along the walls.  Occasionally you stumble on the semi-recumbent body of someone who couldn't wait until he got home to start reading.

People circulate among the tables with their eyes glazed, bumping into each other and muttering excuses.  And from the full cardboard boxes and overflowing carts you can get the feel of a Vermont winter, of long dark evenings by the wood stove with a stack of books at hand.  Gathering reading provisions at the July book sale is one of those preparing-for-winter rituals, akin to chopping and stacking wood, that prudent Vermonters engage in even in the heat of summer, because in these parts winter is always lurking in the back of people's minds.

Every year since I moved to Vermont I have attended the library sale, and staggered home with a New Yorker tote bag full of old books.  But I'm thinking about skipping the sale this year.  I'm afraid of finding that I've read everything out there, and even more afraid of buying books only to discover later that I've already read them.

Still, I'll probably go just for the pleasure of seeing my friends and neighbors preparing for winter, and because there's always the chance that I might find an author I've never heard of before and without whom I cannot live.  Maybe I haven't read all the books.

17 comments :

  1. I avoid book sales like you describe -- and you describe them perfectly!

    I like Kate Atkinson -- but have only read "Behind the Scenes at the Museum". I've kept meaning on reading more ("Behind the Scenes at the Museum" takes place in my beloved West Riding Yorkshire) and I found a hardback of "Started Early, Took My Dog" in the sale rack at Barnes and Noble the other day so I bought it and began reading it. I was happy to see it takes place in West Yorkshire again, but the first couple of pages didn't really grab me -- even the fact that part of it takes place in 1975 when I was THERE amongst the serial killers. I'll give it a chapter or two, then either finish it or stop and donate it to a booksale or something.

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  2. I've really liked her detective fiction, even though it's not my favorite genre. I seem to remember especially liking "When Will There Be Good News?" I think all her fiction does take place in Yorkshire. I didn't know you'd been there in the 70s?

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    1. Yes, my high school had an exchange program with a school outside Leeds and I participated. One of the students and I "fell in love" and "dated" for about 4 years from 1974 - 1979. I got to know West Yorkshire very well and still think of it as a second home.

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  3. From being madly in love with books all my life, I have fallen out of love with them for reasons that I do not understand myself. I still have books on my bookcase that I have not read and I am waiting for that magic moment when my love for reading will return. I do understand that hunger to want to find novels and authors as yet undiscovered. I am homesick for that feeling.

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  4. Irene, that sounds so sad! I hope the "magic moment" comes soon.

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  5. My grandson was here last week, and it was a pleasure to see him engrossed in Sister Grimm Tales. Of course, to get him to read we had to pry him away from his electronic device with its games that were even more engaging than reading. At age 9, he has already plowed through Harry Potter (I think) and has been interested in a boy's version of some of the ancient Greek tales.

    My own reading tends to subject rather than author. While on vacation I read "In the City of Bikes" (Amsterdam) by Pete Jordan (loved it) and am now starting on "The Price of Inequality" by Joseph Stiglitz, an economist. These are not exactly literature in the sense you might be thinking, but they give me pleasure and insight.

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  6. Sister Grimm--I love it!

    As to your last sentence, if they give you pleasure and insight I'd call them literature.

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  7. I know that feeling well, and fall into a book slump more often these days.

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    1. It's no wonder, Rosemary--you read even more than I do.

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  8. I don't get this at all! Maybe I don't have enough years of reading on me yet...but I can't help thinking...maybe this is the long-term result of Kindle?

    I have a couple books I'd set aside to mail to you; I'll get them to you soon!

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  9. This is interesting. For a long time now, I find myself reading nonfiction much more often than fiction. (I keep telling myself I need to switch over to fiction at least once in awhile!) I'm always learning of authors who write about compelling subjects on NPR, on TV, or via one of my Internet "wanderings." After I get done with the nonfiction books that I currently have borrowed from the public library, maybe I'll look for fiction, and maybe you'll try some nonfiction---to shake things up a little? ;-)

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  10. I used to read a lot of nonfiction about country living to feed my fantasies before I moved to the country. The nonfiction I read now relates mostly to spirituality. I bet there are some new dog books out there I should check out...

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  11. These are the things we'll miss as e-books take hold. (And they've already taken hold of me. Though I've lost my reading mojo - been away 6 weeks, and have read about three books).

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    1. You've been gathering material for WRITING a book, right?

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  12. I am still trying to work my way through my pile. I desperately try to avoid the book sale! (Luckily, I was away this weekend!)

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    1. It's my favorite community event and I missed it this year for the first time since I moved to Vermont. I was busy and forgot all about it.

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