Monday, August 22, 2011

Bookish Enough

Reading as much as I have, since starting with JRW and the first, misty chapters of Ax, about and by writers and about writing and reading, I have felt for a long time that I am not bookish enough.  I'm a good writer, but I don't seem to have a singlemindedness about either my authorship nor the artifacts-of-life (I also considered some clever use of "artifactual" here) as they pertain to books and quantity of reading.  It's not like I'm wielding a measuring stick here, but it does feel sometimes as if "everyone else does more" ... reads more, owns more books - somehow is "more" entitled to being a writer, by dint of being a reader, than I am.  My boss made a Stendahl reference not long ago, and I was afraid to admit:  I'm not what you'd call well-versed there.  Neither in French lit, nor even in a lot of classics, whatever the nationality.  I tend to be a VERY eclectic reader.  There is a heavy biblical underpinning, of course - I can still get lost in there very easily - and I have read a respectable segment of standard-issue schoolin' lit and also some off-the-path Victoriana and other eras, though I am likely too weak in 20th century standards, and those I have gone at I have refused to remember like a good student.

It all goes back to my contrarianism.  But it also goes to the fact that I simply disbelieve in prescriptivism.  Least of all, for READING - an act which, for me, whorish as it may sound to so many, is not for me a participation in The Arts, but the engagement in entertainment.  Agents who make lists of books one "must" have read - or who name authors one "must" know (and the one who named "Slaugherhouse Five" as perhaps the best book in all history) - to me miss the point of reading, which is ENJOYMENT.  Storytelling is an art, to be sure - but by my lights, it is first and foremost *entertainment*.  This doesn't negate its deeper potential - nor even thematics, spiritual uplift, all the fancy Things and Stuff - but it is, for me, the guiding force.  I am simultaneously intimidated by and disgusted by those who would dismiss another reader for following an insufficient path of literature.  Of all insane arrogance - only stuff popular enough to have become "classic" - or culturally "relevant" enough (to a limited population of the world) to be widely disseminated - is worthy of consideration ...

... and - by far worse - should be made compulsory??

Not even if it did make me bookish enough would I follow that particular tenet.  The path is not primrose-colored enough to stain my tootsies on.


But this post was not intended to be about contrarianism and prescriptivism in personal reading catalogues.  It was actually meant to start on a musing about my home.

Thinking about this defensiveness - that I'm not "enough" of a reader; that I don't have all the right cred, to be a real writer - I was sitting in my living room this weekend, and realizing how truly surrounded I am with books.

Walking into my home, nobody would be struck by the predominance of a traditional "library" atmosphere.  Yet everywhere around me, such a variety of books, all ove the place.  By the front door, on the small table, are some in-progress reads - a Mary Stewart (The Crystal Cave), and a Penman on tap - the bibles, and a Tanakh.  At the other end of the couch, stacked on the small red slate table - the anthologies I picked up at the antique store this weekend, the books I bought at Orca, the first edition of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" my mom gave me for my birthday (*love!*), The Chronicles of the Tombs (which I cannot recommend highly enough for historians, Victorian curiosity lovers, or people who just dig inscriptions and epitaphs), and several gifts from my brother and family.

In the office, the bookshelves my father built for his and mom's Dream Home twenty-seven years ago are lined two-deep, stacked on top with an antique six-volume history of Virginia, and all my reasearch for Ax lies in there, some of it sidewise on top of lit mags, yearbooks, and at least two dissertations (not mine).  The Will and Ariel Durant volumes are on the small record rack he built.  All my college milk-crates (dressed up, now, with a runner from grandma's house) house ancient journals I really need to burn, and the Texas Instruments calculator (Still in box) dad left behind - and on top of those is another set of miscellany, including books from my childhood, some more gifts from my brother and family, and at least two more yard sale finds.

Still farther across the living room, the complete Agatha Christie (same yard sale, if I remember) and "50 Great Ghost Stories" - still with the bookmark I used in it growing up.  Top that off with a NFS copy of "The Messiah" and "Under the Banner of Heaven" and the votive holders have a nice pile to sit on.

And then there is the bookshelf.  The one I built WITH my dad.  The one where I learned how to use the router.  The one with the "show" books - ones I grew up with - coffee table ones (I haven't even mentioned my actually-on-the-coffee-table coffee table books) - museum souvenir books, college texts including the one my dad gave me when he was a test reader for it "Physics for People Who Think They Don't Like Physics", Tao of Pooh and Piglet too, my Adamses, and a Tutankhamon I remember from grandma's as a child ...  Photo books, art books, design books, even a Vogue drawing volume - and all the religion and philosophy I saved from college days ...  The ancient, delicate, tiny "Sonnets From the Portugese" ... the Cicero text dad read before he died ... and every photo album I have compiled in my life ...

If these aren't enough for anyone's measure of a reader - or of a writer - I don't need to work with them, and will be content with their rejections.  For me, though, they are beautiful.  Pieces of my life.

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