The point of not buying new books is to read down the stacks of books I've got. Clearly I will never get to just-in-time inventory status like some people I know (even, inexplicably, some people I am related to). It used to be important to have all the information I might want at any given moment on hand—what if I needed to remember the Proto-Indo-European root of the word "liver?" Or learn how to write a sonnet? Or find out what the per capita GDP of Botswana is? You used to need to have a reference library for those sorts of things. Now, of course, you can look up almost anything you want to know online in a few seconds, instead of spending hours rummaging around in the stacks (provided, of course, you know how to identify reliable information). As a marketing professional, I spend a lot of time thinking about information overload, and the difficulties we face when trying to attract the attention of a public that is actively trying to ignore any message that isn't critical. Even thinking about the overload is stressful, and experiencing it, as we do every day, is mind-boggling. Literally. I read somewhere that a single weekday issue of the New York Times contains as much information as the average 18th century individual faced in an entire lifetime. True? I don't know, but it's plausible--and that tells you something right there. At the same time, the amount of knowledge that is literally at our fingertips is breathtaking. In my pajamas, at half past midnight on a Monday, I can take it into my head to learn Urdu—and I can start right now. Or I can wonder what the second verse of Cowgirl in the Sand was—and find it immediately. I can get Census data, or historical maps; I have access to the entire photo collection of the Library of Congress and the documents in the National Archives. It's astounding.
While I'm looking all these things up online, though, my print library is languishing, getting dusty on the shelves. Admittedly, print fulfills a different function from online resources. But still, every hour I'm goofing around online is an hour I used to spend reading....so the books pile up and pile up, and here we all are, Miss Havisham among the cobwebbed dishes of the wedding feast.
But, of course, I do read, and I read every day. My reading curriculum is whim-based. I often go on jags, where I read everything by a particular author, or six books in a row set in the Russian winters, or two months of nothing but space opera. I read only for my own pleasure and to enhance the value and enjoyment of my life. That means I don't have to finish anything I'm not enjoying, and I don't have to read the scary parts, and I can read just the good parts of the same book three times in a row if I want to. At the same time, I feel a sort of voracious anxiety, knowing that life is finite and I might not have time to read everything I want to. The days of lingering illnesses and long sea voyages are gone, which is a shame, because they afforded lots more time for uninterrupted reading.
The moral hazard (as it were) is that whim-based reading sometimes require access to books that aren't already in the house. So the curriculum now, at least for a while, is more restricted. It's strictly physically determined: I'm going to read through a stack, a pile, or a shelf at a time, and see what serendipity brings.
I'm starting with the stack closest to the bed, as listed on the left under "On the Night Table." First up is Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar, which, so far, is lovely. I bought it at the Borders in Arborland, the one that's closing, last week for full price, because I felt sorry for them. It was worth it; it's one of my favorite genres, the one of quiet novels about slightly nutty British women.
What are you reading?