Thursday, March 15, 2007

of endless book browsing

One of my favorite things to do with my free time is to browse bookstores. I prefer browsing used bookstores, but because they generally close so early, I usually find myself perusing the stacks at Borders or Barnes & Nobles. Book shopping is something I do a LOT... too much in fact. The truth is, I probably spend more time shopping for books, browsing and buying, than I do actually reading books. This is not good. I think the reason I have this problem is that there are so many books I want to read (thousands, really), and the task is overwhelming to me. The realization that I will not have enough time in this life to read all that I want to read is discouraging and depressing. On average, I can usually only get through about 20-24 books a year (though this last year I set a new personal record, having read -i.e. finished - 35), and I probably buy about 50 a year. needless to say, my ratio of books read to unread is way off. lopsided. unbalanced. sick.

Why do I do this? I was thinking about this the other day when I was (what else?) walking around Borders looking at all the books I wished I could buy and read (I have actually held books in my hand that I already owned, almost regretting that fact of ownership because that means I really truly can't buy it right now, even though I want to feel the rush once again of buying this beautiful book that holds so much promise) (I told you I was sick...). I think the prospect of actually reading everything I want seems so unattainable that I do the next best thing. If I can't read them all, at least I can look at them all, even purchase them to have in my own library. I can at least own all the books I want to read, even if I never get around to actually reading them. This I can do, this is easily accomplished (easy, that is, if one doesn't consider paying the credit card bills). I can take them home, look at them, open their new pages and smell them (much to the chagrin of a certain friend whenever I do that when she's around), handle them, read a few lines here and there, and in general live under the illusion that somehow owning them is similar to actually reading them. I become familiar with a lot of books without going through the slow process of actually reading them all, one by one. I feel some sort of pride at having attained the library I have, some sense of authority regarding books I have no real right to claim authority on.

Books have to catch me at just the right time, otherwise they can potentially be a chore to read. And this is the worst way to read a book, out of a sense of obligation or "should", and not because it has captured your attention and motivation. A few months ago I skipped out on reading a book (that I have every intention of reading one day) for an online discussion group, simply because I just wasn't "feeling it" at that time.
I like having many unread "potentials" on the shelf that will be there for me at just the right time. Thomas Merton was like that for me (to a degree few books ever realize). When I pulled Love and Living off the shelf and read those first lines, my life was changed. If it had not been there on my shelf (where it had been sitting for quite a few months unread) at that late hour of the night, that moment would not have happened with the same level of impact.

So far this year I have only finished 3 books, 2 of which were pretty quick reads (one of those didn't even make it to a hundred pages). At this time last year I had read about 8 or 9 books. needless to say, this isn't shaping up to be a record-breaking year. Just last week, however, I finished reading Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", a book that has been sitting on my shelf (and near the top of my "must read" list) for about a decade. I felt a sense of literary accomplishment after that, even if it was only my third book in as many months. I'm currently finishing up a book of collected speeches given over the years at Calvin's Faith and Writing Festival, called "Shouts and Whispers". I was even at a few of these. I also read the first (major) section of Miroslav Volf's "Exclusion and Embrace" a few weeks ago, but stopped to take a breather. I think that book must be the best theological discussion on the matter of forgiveness and reconciliation. I can't recommend it highly enough. I've been working somewhat on a review of the book, but I can't seem to avoid the temptation to rewrite the book in summary form, which I just can't do. Volf doesn't waste a single line in the book, each paragraph continues the thought and argument, and there is little to no excess or "summary" to be found. He doesn't insult the readers intelligence by restating what he's already said. Some books I've read (especially in Christian circles) could have been better as essays, or pamphlets instead of a 200-page book. Exclusion and Embrace is the exact opposite. It's all meat and essential...

I'll wrap this unfinished ramble up now. just wanted to reconnect with the blog world here, which I've neglected for a couple months now. It is hard to remember that I don't need to write a graduate thesis every time I sit down to do one of these. In fact I don't have to do that ever. But you, the reader, intimidate me, and I want to impress you with my great wisdom and perfection. So, as a counterbalance to my unchecked ego, here is an entry that has neither of those things. if you don't like it, you can go f...

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I like this, but I am still waiting for the Volf review!