Like most bibliophiles, I have a big ole stack of books — multiple stacks, really — lying around the house; that is, I have unshelved books in little intermediary piles that I am either always reading or planning to read “next,” which is to say, sometime in the near future. I’ve written before about books I’m always reading (and re-reading), so I’ll set that aside for the moment; also, there are those books of a somewhat fragmentary nature that I like to read slowly (fodder for a future post, perhaps) — but let’s set those aside as well, because they are not what I’m speaking of here.
I found a few years ago that the best way to finish a book, especially a challenging book, but really any novel worth reading, is to simply give it as much undivided attention as you can — to do your best to not let all those other books jump the queue. And for the most part, I’m pretty good at doing this.
So well anyway.
I finished Roberto Bolaño’s Amulet the night before last. I’ve had the book for a while, and though I had desired to read it, I hadn’t had the feeling of wanting to commit to this particular book; so, what I’m doing now, gentle reader, is distinguishing between these two things. We, that is bibliophiles, we all desire to read certain books (lots of certain books, no doubt), but that’s not the same as the feeling of wanting to commit to the particular book. Because generally a bibliophile knows that a great book, or at least a book worth reading, requires a certain level of commitment.
I picked Amulet out of the stack after reading Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. I don’t know why. There was no intellectual impulse in the choice, although a connection might easily be made between the two novels, both set in Mexico; indeed, Bolaño opens The Savage Detectives with a quote from Under the Volcano, and the heroine of Amulet shows up in The Savage Detectives — so there is some connection. But again, the decision to read Amulet next, instead of, say, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard or Heinrich Böll’s The Train Was on Time or any of the other dozens of books cluttering up Biblioklept International Headquarters, was, or at least I believe was, more a matter of intuition and feeling than intellect.
So, as I mentioned, I finished Amulet the other night, and, during the course of reading that novel, another dead literary darling’s novel came out, David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. Which I’ve been greatly anticipating. Which I’ve been very much desiring to read. Which I have absolutely no desire to commit to reading now, which is to say in that moment between books. Which is strange, I suppose, but perhaps easy to account for on several fronts. First, every day seems to bring some new, fully realized review of The Pale King to the internet, or some piece about Wallace’s “legacy” and The Pale King, or, even worse, some coverage about coverage of The Pale King (which, yes, I realize this post is now threatening to become). Another reason that might account for the fact that I have no feeling to commit to reading The Pale King now may be that it is Wallace’s last novel; maybe I want to wait a bit, give myself a bit of distance from the internet buzz, let anticipation build again. Divorce myself from the idea of having to read the book — especially in the context of Biblioklept, a maybe-literary blog.
To go back to my earlier point, the point of all of this (if this rambling can be said to have a point) is that I realize that I rarely choose to read the “next” book in an intellectual way — that is, the choice is almost always intuitive, born from some feeling that I don’t know how to name, except to say that it’s the feeling that I have when I’m in-between books. It’s a wonderful feeling, exhilarating and freeing and full of possibility, as corny as that sounds, but also a kind of anxiety, a feeling paradoxically tempered by the temporal messiness of being a reader, which is to say being a human, as if the limited time we have to read dampens — and thus defines — the edges of this particular exhilaration. I love the feeling because it opens a seemingly illimitable range of possibilities — the possibilities of new books, new narratives — even as the choice forecloses the possibility of another choice. Etymologically, the word “decide” means “to cut off.” But enough dithering. Time to riffle through the stack.