Thursday, August 24, 2006


I generally read one book at a time.

While I found the recent essay on compulsive book-starting mildly amusing, I couldn't relate. I readily admit to the compulsion to buy and to own books, but I work through them rather methodically. I actually feel pretty smug at this, my restraint, but also knowing what reading material I have on hand, knowing my pace and having a sense of the time available to me, knowing what can wait for later. My stack of unread books is under control. So I thought.

When other bloggers started counting and listing, I thought I'd do the same. I checked to see what was by my bed, and then I noticed there were books under the bed and remembered the bottom shelf of the nearby bookcase. I thought uh-oh, and walked away.

A few days later I'd mustered up the courage for a closer look. In all, about three dozen books, including nonfiction, which I don't read very often and which I don't always read cover to cover, dipping into it over years, using it as a reference; some titles had already been dipped into. There are a few books I will likely never read: a couple used books that smell funny, a couple misguided impulses, a couple castoffs from friends. Some are books I fully intend to read someday, but haven't found the time or frame of mind for (among these, Proust, Ulysses, Dickens, and Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle), and some of them have been there for years, but I do not suffer guilt for these. Only a handful of the unread books chastise me. Not so bad.

My book-buying binges may result in one step back, but I rationalize that my reading and general acquisition habits push me many more steps forward.

Book acquired before going on vacation, in case I couldn't cope with War and Peace and finished my ongoing light read (remaindered):
Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte — Which begins, "He was not the most honest or pious of men, but he was courageous." I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Pérez-Reverte's books (although The Nautical Chart significantly less so, but I think because I was reading it in the obgyn's waiting room — the stages of my pregnancy were measured in novels).

Books ordered via internet and picked up at depot while on vacation (bargain prices):

The Knight of Maison-Rouge, Alexandre Dumas — A review of which I'd saved from 2003. Because it's Dumas! and there's swordplay! and revolution! And it's my Napoleonic summer!

The Gold Bug Variations, Richard Powers — For my left brain. All the cool kids read it ages ago, and I want to hang out with them.

Little Children, Tom Perrotta — Having saved two reviews of this book from 2004, being still intrigued by it, and hoping for a laugh at the expense of suburb dwellers.

Isabel's Bed, Elinor Lipman — Which I came across while browsing a bookstore near my sister's place when I visited her in 2002 (or was it the trip before that one?) and neglected to buy and have kicked myself for ever since. I have a fondness for characters who bear my name, or some variant. (Does anyone else thrill to see their name used in fiction?)

Women in Evidence, Sebastien Japrisot — Considered by Danielle to be a great underappreciated author. It's noir and said to be "diabolically clever."

Honeymoon, Bittermoon, Ramon Perez de Ayala — Because I needed to spend $2 more to be able to apply my $5 coupon to the total purchase and it leapt out at me, having heard about it previously in connection with Polanski's Bitter Moon (which I loved) tho' that film is in fact based on a different novel, but it's surmised there are some thematic connections.

Book purchased on impulse while picking up book order noted above, because I had to take just a quick look to see what gems they might have out on the floor:
Harold's Circus, Crockett Johnson — Because it's Harold! with his purple crayon! It begins, "One moonlit evening, mainly to prove to himself that he could do it, Harold went for a walk on a tightrope." We must have more Harold! It's not actually for me though.

Book acquired in passing, while out "shopping" (by which I mean wandering about the mall close to my mom's house cuz we didn't seem to have anything better to do), and for which I feel very guilty (remaindered and further discounted):
The Red and the Black, Stendhal — (I see just now that I'd also kept a review of this one.) Yes, I already have a copy. It was a Mother's Day present. When they presented me with the paberback, I had to suppress my disappointment, having expressed my wish for a particular translation (which this was) and given explicit directions regarding the location of the hardcovers near the right edge of the second shelf from the top on the bargain shelves facing the checkout of the store situated at a particular intersection. It didn't take long for me to get over the soft- vs hardcover, as I was quickly engrossed in the introduction and already making this copy my own; but it niggled at me that he spent more than $6.99 and on a lesser version. I made a joke about it in the days that followed. He told me this book was also marked down, $3.99. Which made me unbelievably happy, and I forgot all about it. Till I did laundry a few days later and found the receipt for full price in a pocket (from that same store). While I'm still flummoxed by the inability to carry out instructions (copies in question were still to be had weeks later), I'm touched that he knows so well what pushes, and releases, my buttons. Still, when I found a copy (hardcover, Modern Library, just so tactilely pleasant) further reduced because of a coffee splotch on the jacket (easily wipeable; I checked), I couldn't resist. Please don't tell J-F. Gawd, I feel so guilty. And I have it and mean to read it in French, too.

Book acquired in the days following my return from vacation, while browsing used book shops — it now being a mission to search out and explore (finally) all the (few) English-language book stores in the city, one neighbourhood at a time (my own neighbourhood is predominantly French) — which, both the browsing and the purchase (and the subsequent reading), helped balm some work-related stress (used):
The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley — Which I've already read and may have some words about in days to come.

Thus concludes my book acquisitions for calendar year 2006, excepting books received as gifts for my birthday and for Christmas and including those select two (one on each of those occasions) that I will warrant to bestow as gifts on myself.

And I will read them all. Soon.


Carl V. said...

I haven't heard of The Haunted Bookshop but the title has me hooked!

I used to be a one book at a time until finished reader. That changed sometime in my early 30's and now I always have several going at once. I related so much to that article when I read it a few days ago. I felt like someone had reached into my psyche and described me perfectly. My wife is exactly like you with her reading habits. I think both ways are perfectly acceptable as the important thing, in my mind, is that one reads and does so because they enjoy doing it.

Look forward (hopefully) to your thoughts about The Haunted Bookshop.

Lizzie said...

I'm sorry, but in the spirit of Acquisitions, I'd like to register my protest on another subject: Pluto's been demoted! How do we remember the order of the planets (you know, the mnemonic we all memorized in public school)??? Holy Bat Shit, Science Girl...what do you say???

Martha said...

I am horribly and messily undiscplined when it comes to my reading-- I'm always starting books while I'm reading others, or coming back to ones I started long ago, or putting aside books that I've become bored by. I'm a compulsive book buyer too, and so my shelves are full of books I'm intending to read but haven't managed yet-- I'm also intending to read the baroque cycle, and the first book is one I've picked up and put down a couple of times. I think you would like The Gold Bug Variations-- I love reading Richard Powers, though he also drives me a little crazy. I think he has a new book out. Oh, and the name "Martha" in fiction is generally some person's ancient spinster aunt, or else a Jehovah's witness going door to door. Come to think of it, not so different than real life.

Danielle said...

I admire your self control. I really do wish I had more of it. I couldn't even attempt to put in one post my book purchases for 2006!! :) I always think that maybe I can start anew and just not buy any new books, but well, that doesn't usually happen. I hope you like the Japrisot. My favorite by him is A Trap for Cinderella. I think I have read all but one of his books that is available in english, and have enjoyed them all. Now I have to find the Knight of Maison Rouge...see, no control.

cipriano said...

What a great blog. You reminded me of the pile[s] of books I have here, literally [pun?] scattered yon and hither. I cannot possibly read them all with the intensity most of them deserve.
And yet I acquire.
Oh, I acquire.
Recently, the same Modern Library Stendhal that you mention. [Ain't it a beaut?]
Happy reading!