Over the weekend I reorganized my bookshelves. I tend to leave books scattered all over the house—stacked beside the bed, assembled fort-like next to my favorite armchair, lying open on the kitchen counter or the ottoman, on my desk, in my desk, crammed into boxes and pushed to the back of the hall closet. There are probably books in the attic as well, now that I think of it. I’ll have to investigate. I’ve culled the herd over time, and as I do a lot of my reading these days on Kindle or via audiobook, it wasn’t a tedious job. I’ve got the novels all together on the top shelves, then short story collections and poetry, and below that the books on writing, on photography, on space, gardening, design, yada yada. I’ve got a shit-ton of cookbooks, which get a lot of play, and a few grim health-related books that have been touched only briefly, out of duty.
I’m not widely read and I’m okay with that. We can’t all be brainy. But I was disappointed in myself when I reassembled my shelves of fiction and poetry. So many of these have not been read, or were started and left unfinished. I have an awful habit of reading the books I like over and over again, even if the book is a mystery or thriller in which the ending is fixed in my head from the jump. I’ve been puzzling over this, trying to understand why I prefer a book I’ve read a dozen times over one that might offer fresh delights, a new voice, a cast of characters whose lines don’t spring immediately to mind like the lyrics of an old song. It takes a certain amount of willpower to start a new book, a lot of inner dialogue: Step away from the Binchy, for god’s sake, Averil. Take a risk, try the Ford, try that new Egan! And I know these other books are going to be good, so why the hesitation?
I wonder if I gravitate toward familiar titles because, like most of us, I read to satisfy a particular need, and for me that need is comfort. I want a book to feel friendly, safe, known. I want to spend time with the characters whose company I miss. Judith Dunbar, the sweet-tempered lead in Coming Home, Cathy and Tom from Scarlet Feather. Hermione Granger. Penelope Keeling. Anne Elliot. Hercule Poirot, and Chief Inspector Gamache, and little Julia What’s-Her-Name on the cusp of adulthood in The Age of Miracles. Even the horrible Humbert Humbert, if I’m being honest. I kind of miss the guy after a while and want to check in.
Still, it’s clear from my bookshelves that I’m missing out, and that part of me also craves the new stories. After all, I have bought them, brought them home, populated my Kindle with the ones that grabbed me or which were recommended at some point as being worth my time. I should read them. I’m going to read them.
I started buddy-reading a couple of books from my shelf: a new one, Panenka, which is great so far, and an older beloved Pilcher called The Day of the Storm. And for my 10-minute commute, I’ve got the audio version of Flowers for Algernon, which is new to me and wonderfully narrated in Charlie’s everchanging voice. After that, I might try something dark or pulpy—Sadie When She Died, maybe, or that Highsmith book called Deep Water. Oh, or I could go back to The Pull of The Moon, which I’ve DNF’d twice through no fault of the book. It was me, it was bad timing. I should give it another chance, because I adore Elizabeth Berg.
Anyway, there are options. I’ll report back.
The lovely video today is one my daughter sent me. It’s exactly like her.