Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: The List

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 Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 6: I Just Haven’t Gotten Around To It Perhaps this applies to my sister muses as well, but perhaps it’s just me. All sorts of people assume I’ve read things I haven’t read. … Continue reading

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Pastiche

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 5: There Are a Lot of Reasons, Really

I Sort of Encountered It Already/No Narrative Lust - This is basically the opposite problem of yesterday’s post.  Sometimes you read the dumbed-down and sugar-coated version as a child; sometimes you see a movie or stage production or some other medium.  Because you know where the plot goes, more or less, you don’t bother with the unabridged, unadulterated prose of the original book.

This is part of the reason Lord of the Rings took me such a long time.  It’s why I haven’t been especially inclined to read certain Shakespeare plays: A Winter’s Tale, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Henry V, and Coriolanus can wait.  It’s why I haven’t gotten more than 100 pages into Les Miserables or 3 chapters into Moby Dick or any pages into A Christmas Carol.  Having read a version or two of Arthurian legends, I haven’t read Morte d’Arthur.

But who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll want to see how the author originally wrote it.

Critically Acclaimed and Hated - That is, critics loved it, but a friend/relative/other trusted source reported it as loathsome in some respect.  This is why I never bothered with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and sequels.

I Read It And Then Forgot It – “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.”  Thanks, Jack.  By that metric, I don’t even know how many books I ought to reread.

I Dropped It in the Bath - This reason comes from Thalia.  I have never Wet Paperbackactually done this, because the idea of dropping a book in the tub has dissuaded me from the salutary practice of reading at bathtime.  The peace and rest would be shattered by frantically grabbing the volume, attempting to towel off the cover, thumbing helplessly and hopelessly at the waterlogged pages.  When it eventually dries out, the crinkled pages remind you of your folly forever.

It’s in a Language I Haven’t Learned (Yet) - This one is also from Thalia, but resonates with me.  Some things are more than adequate in translation, or so we are assured, but we won’t be able to judge that for ourselves until we’ve read the original Greek/French/Russian/Atlantean/etc.

No One Has Commanded Me To So I Figured It Wasn’t Urgent – If it’s a book that has no champions, not even the advertising e-mails from the bookstore, then I will probably pass it over in favor of something else.  But by that token, no one will care if I’ve ignored it.  Victory!

I HAVE NO EXCUSE; I AM A VICIOUS AND SLOTHFUL CREATURE.  Increasingly, this is my answer.  Opening a new book is lovely, but it is a commitment of sorts.  Sometimes I am so lazy that even that teeny little commitment is off-putting, such that I end up wasting all sorts of time online instead.

What’s your go-to reason?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Cliffhanger Avoidance

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 4: I Don’t Want Another Cliffhanger

I was among those who started reading the Harry Potter books at age 12 when only the first three books were out.  And so began the waiting: a few months until Goblet of Fire, three YEARS until Order of the Phoenix, another couple years for Half-Blood Prince, and two more until the finale in Deathly Hallows.  In retrospect, waiting was part of why I loved the books so much: no matter how many other books I read from 1999 to 2007, there was always this series I reread and revisited, learning it like the back of my hand, sewing it into my mental map of reality, into my language.

Albino Deer

All of which meant I used to get impatient with people who couldn’t remember, say, the difference between a Muggle and a Squib; that’s like confusing albinism with melanism, or worse.  But a year or so ago, I read all the Hunger Games books in 4 days and forgot most of the details in them after a few months.  Sure, I could paint a broad Melanistic Deerpicture of what bad stuff goes down, what affronts to human dignity take place, and perhaps which people die, but I couldn’t name all the tributes or victors or weird technological weaponry that gets used.  None of my Hunger Games discussions can turn on a detail like that.  I realized that my rereading in anticipation of the next installment of Harry Potter made me so much more literate in that universe, and rather insane invested in the storyline and characters.

All of which sounds like an argument for getting into a series, even if it isn’t finished, right?  After all, even if the larger story told in the series weren’t finished, each book has its own plot which can stand alone, more or less.  But the longer and more expansive the series gets, the more loaded each book, and the more pressure there is for the crisis to be reached and resolved, the loose ends to be tied and tucked neatly away.  Years of waiting for that can take their toll; just look at the Sherlock fandom.  Whatever good you get out of the wait, you also get…the wait.  Nor do you have any guarantee that your patience will be satisfied.  Christopher Tolkien and Brian Herbert attempted to finish book projects their fathers John and Frank had begun (reviews on the resulting books are mixed); Robert Jordan died before finishing Wheel of Time; and they are far from the only authors who died, leaving unfinished stories.  I’ve said that I won’t start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until George R. R. Martin finishes writing them, which at his current rate (extrapolated from the other publishing dates) might well be 2027.  Or it might not happen at all.  Some friends want to discuss the extant books and thus urge me to reconsider; I’ve been accumulating Martin’s books gradually in preparation, and I might crack the first two before buying more.

Unfinished series don’t always put me off; I’ve started the Dresden Files and found that there are enough of them to keep me busy for a while (I started reading them over a year ago and am only 9 books in).  And meanwhile, sometimes a series is complete, but I still hesitate to start it because I’m not sure which book comes first.  This is why I haven’t started the Earthsea Cycle yet (do you have to read “The Word of Unbinding” first?  Are there three books or six? Someone please share their wisdom).  It’s why I haven’t read Vale of the Vole, despite my friend’s insistence that I’d love it – it’s the tenth of a series I haven’t tracked down.  Then there are times when I gleefully read things out of order:  I read the Peter-and-Harriet books before I got to Peter’s bachelor days, and Prisoner of Azkaban before Chamber of Secrets.

What series(es) have torn you up with waiting?  Which are tearing at you right now?  Upon which cliffs do you hang?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Sleep

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 3: I Keep Falling Asleep

There are a number of wonderful books which, though highly recommended, I have not finished because I fall asleep every time I try to read them.  Even when I’m not reading in bed, I fall asleep: I curl up in my chair, I melt into the couch, I lie on the floor like a cat.  This probably indicates that I don’t get enough rest at night, but perhaps it also indicates something about my reading material.

kitty sleeps on book

Some might think falling asleep indicates the book is dull.  I think it mostly reflects the reader’s (lack of) wakefulness, blood circulation, and attention span; it’s not necessarily the book’s fault.  Thalia and I discussed the fact that though Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture is beautiful, lucid, and interesting, we conk out after a few pages.  My theory is that the ideas are heavy.  It’s like trying to balance a number of well-cut rocks.  You can follow where the reasoning goes, but you also have to carry where you’ve been with you, as though you were trying to pick up a road as you walk on it.  That’s the heavy bit, keeping all those premises in mind, and it exhausts my brain.

Leisure the Basis of CultureOrthodoxyStudies in WordsFrankenstein

Presumably this is also why I fall asleep reading Orthodoxy and, to my shame, Studies in Words.  Possibly I made my attempts at both books in a severely compromised state, since by all rights I ought to have read and loved them by now.  It’s why I never finished my Intercollegiate Studies Institute Reading (work by Kirk and Burke, oh my) or Frankenstein (which still waits on my bedside table for me to return to it).

What books have you fallen asleep reading?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Don’t Have It

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 2: I Do Not Physically Have the Book

As excuses rational explanations go, this one’s pretty airtight, assuming one does not have an e-reader (I do not).  No words, no reading.  That means, of course, that it isn’t one of the myriad titles available on Project Gutenberg, Google Books, or similar online sources.  But then, a lot of books were published too recently for that sort of internet hosting/availability, because copyright.  In which case the actual, physical book must be obtained, and the following potential obstacles surmounted:

    – I’m saving up for it – Sad, maybe, but often the case, especially with textbooks, beautifully bound volumes in used bookshops (all the sets of Austen, Dickens, Doyle, et cetera), and Absolute Sandman Volumes 3-5.  You walk through a bookshop thinking “I’m sorry!  I wish I could take you ALL home, but I can’t!”  Which is responsible of you.  Fret not.

Until I see you again, my dears...

Maybe next paycheck, my dears…

    – I have the money but forgot which title I was looking for at the bookstore – This kept me from SO MANY BOOKS.  It prevented my beginning the Dresden Files for awhile.  I think this is also the reason I haven’t read A Prayer for Owen Meany, as well as other books which, astonishingly, escape me at the moment.  My friend Reneé once gave me a book journal so this wouldn’t happen, and I do use it, but it mostly means there’s one more place for the titles to be other than my head.

This place is HUGE. It must have EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED.

- I remembered the title BUT they didn’t have it - Prevented me from getting some Chesterton, Sayers, and Walker Percy along the way.  I think I eventually gave up on big-box bookstores because their target market is just…someone else.  Someone who is really, really interested in board games, financial planning, and self-improvement.

What...no, this isn't what I wanted.This isn't what I wanted at ALL.  I'm gonna grab my coffee and go.What…no, this isn’t what I wanted.  This isn’t what I wanted at ALL.  I am gonna take my coffee and go.

    – I know it’s in my house somewhere… – Dang it, I swear I don’t need your copy of King Lear.  Or Murder on the Orient Express.  I really do have my own!  Why can I find two copies of Murder Must Advertise and none of Whose Body?

    - It Isn’t In My Library (not even via ILL or MelCAT!)  – Since I live in Ann Arbor, this has happened when I’ve looked for particular religious books or conservative thinkers.  Look for Martin Luther and you get Martin Luther King, Jr.  Seek out John Henry Cardinal Newman and you get a single book of essays (which, on one hand, is 35 essays I ought to read; still, a scant offering).  Gene Veith’s work is on MelCAT but not the A2 catalog.  On the other hand, let it be noted that Ann Arbor has a surprisingly wide range of Wendell Berry!  He must appeal to the home-grown locavores etc.

    – It Was Due Back At The Library – I got close to getting somewhere with Golden Apples of the Sun, a complete volume of MacNeice’s poetry, Parade’s End, etc., but then someone else requested it and I had to cry surrender.  I have not yet mustered the will to demand them back.

Have any of these fates befallen you?  What titles are you currently seeking at the store/library/hidey holes in your house?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Introduction

The Egotist’s Club was not necessarily founded to be strictly a literary blog.  Sure, we love Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter enough to own them as godparents of sorts, and we do read, write, and talk about reading and writing a great deal.  But we also blog about the movies we watch, our observations of society, food and drink, music, and craftsmanship.  Anything pertaining to humanity is fair game: its feats, its fascinations, and its foibles.

And yet…we have, perhaps, given ourselves a rather bookish reputation.  This creates certain impressions, such that every once in a while, there comes a conversation wherein a friend will edge near me, glance about furtively, and then confess that she never got all the way through Lord of the Rings.  Or he’ll say “You’ll judge me for it, but I never did read all of the Narnia books.”  Or “I know everyone’s read it, but I just haven’t finished Hamlet.”

Then I have to tell them how after reading The Hobbit, I started The Lord of the Rings, got to Bree, and stopped.  And then I started again, got to Weathertop, and stopped.  I started again, got to Moria, and stopped.  There was just so much walking, guys.  Eventually I was a sophomore in college, where (seemingly) everyone loved Tolkien with an undying passion, and I had that exact same anxious twinge because I had never made it all the way through.  It came to pass that I befriended the Scrupulously Exact Physicist, who, on hearing this confession, urged me to repentance, saying “You have to read them!” (and moreover, penance: “And then read The Silmarillion!”)  Have been so commanded, I finally muscled through the entirety of  Fellowship, and in fact the entire trilogy – partly by reading during an extremely dull class; never let me claim that Science 101 profited me nothing.

My point is, sometimes you just haven’t read a book, or you feel like it’s too late for it, or sometimes you try reading it and then stop, and far be it from me (or from any of us, really) to make you feel bad about that.  I think the xkcd approach is the best to take:

Randall Monroe, you are totally right about the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Randall Monroe’s right: it’s cool to be around the first time someone picks up that book you love so much.

So this week is for confessing the ways and reasons we are the antithesis of a book club.  To wit, this is the week we (or, well, I, at least) tell you Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet.

Feel free to join in!

“My Gracious Silence”

I watched the Hiddlestone Coriolanus a few nights ago, and was enthralled. It is an excellent production, from casting to staging, as Terpsichore described. (Seriously, how does a dirt-grimed man moving a chair look so attractive?)

Coriolanus is a grand tragedy of political and personal dimensions and revolving around several very forceful, very egotistic, and very vocal characters. Caius Macius Coriolanus is the manliest of men, (especially when played by Hiddlestone,) but cannot bend his (flawed) convictions to curry political favor. His bossy mother Volumnia claims responsibility for her son’s martial prowess, and lives up to her name.

But in this version, my attention was caught by the quiet, peace-loving wife, Virgilia.

This Virgilia is only vocally silent.

 

In their first scene together,  Coriolanus address his wife as “my gracious silence”. This phrase has always captured my attention, mostly because that adjective lends a warmth and power to a quality that is often overlooked or criticized. But this title often translates into a negative portrayal of the character.

Virgilia has barely 26 lines, in the whole play, none of which are particularly poignant or important. This title and her own words combined mark her a passive character, waiting for the action of others to determine her fate, ruled by her voluble mother-in-law, and cloistering herself inside wait for her husband. (It is the mother-in-law, Volumnia, who lives up to her name with some of the most rhetorically powerful speeches in the play.)

In Shakespeare, the character reveal themselves trough their speeches almost more than their actions, particularly as Shakespeare included few stage directions. A character with few lines often fades into the background. Yet in this production, Virgilia’s silence is not taken to be complete inaction.

She might be silent in part because it is impossible to speak when Volumnia holds forth. But in a play where there is increasing tension between honest speech and “fair words”, it is notable that Virgilia repeatedly chooses to hold her silence.

Volumnia urges Coriolanus to,

” . . .  speak
To the people; not by your own instruction,
Nor by the matter which your heart prompts you,
But with such words that are but rooted in
Your tongue, though but bastards and syllables
Of no allowance to your bosom’s truth. ” (2232-2236)

And when Coriolanus complies, Virgilia becomes almost mute. When his inability to make the bastard words credible destroys him, Virgilia (in this version) only kisses him farewell.

It is not passivity that silences Virgilia;  it is words themselves that fail her.

Corrupt language is what destroyed her husband.  At several points she can only issue broke cries of, “oh heavens, oh heavens!”, as if words themselves cannot hold depth of her heartache (2533).  She is almost choking on her words, as if to articulate them would derive them of reality. Speeches would only make her agony seem trite, so she carries them quietly.

Shakespeare, the word master, has crafted excruciating monologues of pain, so it is strange that he gives Virgilia such silence. Yet his use of silence is not uncommon; “silence is the perfectest herald of joy”, declares Claudio, the false lover. Although Claudio’s joy falters, it might well be that silence heralds a great many other interior movements.

This version of the play lets Virgilia’s actions speak more poignantly than all of Volumnia’s syllables. Her love for her husband is clear in every gesture, and need to no other articulation. Her lack of speech is not empty, but it itself as powerful as Menelius’ smooth persuasions. She is truly Coriolanus’s “gracious silence”.

 

 

Silence

 

 

 

 

Yesterweather

It is a soft, slightly gloomy day out, and no one around here revels in that but me.  The morning drizzle has left a few puddles and a cloudy sky behind.  All is rather grey, but a gentle breeze blows on the melting snows, much warmer than the winds of weeks past.  Walking around outside, I caught a scent of something sweet like pipe smoke.  Some ice still lingers, but stepping on it splinters and crushes it into slush.

This is some of my favorite weather, I think; it is above all calm and quiet.  No beams of sunlight stab the eyes or glare off virgin snow.  It’s not quite warm enough or green enough to register as spring, and so it most resembles October: the month of gallivanting through the woods or by lakes and streams.

Thus there is a northernness about it: a lie, because I am no further north than I was yesterday, but a claim made by right; the rain has reminded the streets and trees and air of the world beyond these buildings and this town, and issued its muted invitation to go forth and explore it.