At war with sinking in and deeply enjoying reading is not the number of books out there but our pathological delusion that we will someday “finish” them all. We will not, and we know this. But our entire system of culture consumption is set out around queues–lists of books, movies, songs, and news articles we’d like to remember and “get to.” It’s a great service to have these reminders for what we want to read, listen to, and see. But their very nature creates a completely false urgency that everytime we finish something there’s a long line of other somethings waiting, tapping their feet impatiently and saying “get on with it.”
The only answer I have is one you probably already know. That slowing down and taking the time to savor what you read makes it that much better. It won’t spin garbage into gold (a lousy book is lousy at any speed) and you will, in aggregate over the course of your life, read less. But it will be the equivalent of having 6 good friends instead of 60 acquaintances whom you would not feel comfortable calling on the day a loved one has died.
I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to actually read Kevin Smokler’s Practical Classics but his project still feels deeply personal since it coincides with one of my own — my not-so-creatively-titled “Revisiting the Classics Project.” For those new to the blog: every spring and fall I pick up a book I read a long time ago, whether in high school or college — preferably one I didn’t like or “understand.” I then see if re-reading these classics with a set of older eyes and life experiences make any difference. Sometimes they do: I still can’t figure out why I didn’t like Emma the first time around. That being said, The Scarlet Letter still sucks.
And just an FYI: my project books are a little off this year since I ended up reading a “Big Book” last fall, and read Emma this past winter. Anyway, I’ll be back to revisiting another classic this fall. The question really is: which one? I’m thinking The Catcher in the Rye. Man, I don’t remember anything about that book except broody Holden Caulfield. And a merry-go-round? Ah, 9th grade English! You escape me.