I haven’t been reading much fiction lately. Aside from a lot of comics, that is.
That’s weird for me. I know it wouldn’t be a concern for most people, but I was in the habit of finishing at least one fiction book every 3 weeks or so (in addition to everything I read). So what’s happened?
It could just be a string of bad luck. 2 of the last 3 fiction books I’ve started (one of them is a re-read) haven’t strung me along even to page 100. That’s usualy my rule, read to page 100, even if I’m not liking it. So, the first problem book was The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. I’ve really loved his last couple of books, especially Kavalier & Clay, which is on my top 20 books list. So, the fact that I can’t bring myself to read another 12 pages of this book is pretty disappointing. It can’t be his fault, can it?
The other big problem book for me is Home Land by Sam Lipsyte. The Believer chose it for their first annual Believer Book Award, and I enjoy every single word ever written in the Believer magazine. So, it’s pretty upsetting to think that my tastes depart so far from theirs on what was the best book of 2005. It’s definitely a good book, no doubt there. The conceit is very clever, the characters are well drawn, it’s very, very original, an it’s brutally ufnny. So, what’s wrong with me? I can’t make it through more than 83 pages?
Maybe it’s just cause I’m so busy lately. My getting things done system insists that I’ll instinctively know how best to spend my time, and my instincts are telling me not to “waste time” on fiction. I’ve still been finishing plenty of non-fiction though. And comics. Though, comics are, generally speaking, fiction, so maybe they’re filling whatever spiritual quota is usually met by my daily dose of great fiction.
I have other fiction books sitting on the shelf, waiting to be started, a couple that I’ve had for more than a year and am still really pumped to read … but I can’t get to them, somehow. I definitely don’t need to start another book. I’ve got about 15 bookmarks employed full-time right now. And, of course, that doesn’t include the comics.
Of course, who cares? This is a lot of the stuff Nick Hornby used to struggle with in the early days of his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column for The Believer.
I have a bookshelf over my bed, which is where I put the Books Bought and others that I have a serious intention of reading one day. And inevitably, over time, some of these are pronounced dead, and taken gently and respectfully downstairs either to the living room shelves, if they are hardbacks, or the paperback bookcase immediately outside the bedroom door, where they are allowed to rest in peace. (Do we have a word for something that looked like a good idea once? I hope so.) I’m sure you all knew this, but in fact books never die-it’s just that I am clearly not very good at finding a pulse. I have learned this from my two younger children, who have taken to pulling books off the shelves within their reach and dropping them on the floor. Obviously I try not to notice, because noticing might well entail bending down to pick them up. But when I have finally and reluctantly concluded that no one else is going to do it, the book or books in my hand frequently look great-great and unread-and they are thus returned to the bookshelf over the bed. It’s a beautiful, if circular, system, something like the process of convectional rainfall: interest evaporates, and the books are reduced to so much hot air, so they rise, you know, sideways, or even downstairs, but then blah blah and they fall to the ground- something like, anyway, although perhaps not exactly like.
So, okay, here are a couple of choice cuts from Hornby’s column that I really dig. And a picture of him.
I read 55 percent of the books I bought this month-five and a half out of ten. Two of the unread books, however, are volumes of poetry, and, to my way of thinking, poetry books work more like books of reference: They go up on the shelves straight away (as opposed to onto the bedside table), to be taken down and dipped into every now and again. (And, before any outraged poets explode, I’d like to point out that I’m one of the seventy-three people in the world who buys poetry.) And anyway, anyone who is even contemplating ploughing straight through over a thousand pages of Lowell’s poetry clearly needs a cable TV subscription, or maybe even some friends, a relationship, and a job.
I don’t want anyone writing in to point out that I spend too much money on books, many of which I will never read. I know that already. I certainly intend to read all of them, more or less. My intentions are good. Anyway, it’s my money. And I’ll bet you do it too.
So, the point is that I feel upset that I’m not reading fiction, because I’m afraid it indicates something about me that I don’t want to know. And, I feel guilty not reading the books that I buy. And, of course, it’s the usual cycle. When I have time to read, I get bored. When I’m too busy, I just wish I had time to read. So I’m fucked as usual.
Did I mention that the show is not going very well? Maybe I should have talked about that.