I recently celebrated my 64th birthday and am now in my 65th year, as "kindly" pointed out by a teasing friend. I was celebrated in many ways and am so grateful for my loving family and friends. I must admit, however, that this birthday has raised some mild panic and anxiety in me. Of course, the days of our lives are always numbered, but the number of days left, while unknown, feel tangible. I know, if I stay mindful, calm, and aware, these feelings can be a valuable teacher for me. What am I noticing and what am I learning?
As always, I turn to books for guidance, but here's the dilemma. Too many books, too little time. I used to say that with glee and great anticipation, but now each book I choose to read feels more like a decision of what I won't have time to read. I stand in front of my bookshelves after completing a book and agonize about what to read next. I want it to be absorbing and worthwhile. I want to know that when I read the last page, I will want to recommend it to my reading friends and will feel blessed by the words and thoughts. I want to be enriched for the time spent in its pages, its world and wisdom. However, more and more often I read 20 or 30 pages and then toss the book in the "Help Yourself" basket in our first floor bathroom. I wonder, as I shop my shelves, if my tastes have changed. I am more attracted, for the first time in my life, to nonfiction than fiction, but nonfiction feels more like a commitment, and I am cautious about making the right commitment.
One recent read has complicated the issue, On ReReading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/ Spacks makes a strong case for rereading favorite books.
Reading a book for the first time can rarely if ever offer the kind of relaxed pleasure that comes with previous knowledge of how everything is going to turn out. It is equally true that reading a book for the first time rarely stimulates the kind of subtle discriminations that become possible when much in the text feels familiar. (p. 34)
Second and subsequent readings can intensify the delight by diminishing concern for how the plot will work out...We want to see more clearly the steps by which the plot achieves its intricacies or we look forward to re-encountering a delightful character, or we hope to revel in the language of a narrative when we no longer need to pay such close attention to events. (p. 140)
Oh great, not only do I have shelves of books I haven't yet read for the first time, but now I am thinking about all the books I want to reread: all of Jane Austen's books AGAIN, Possession and also The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, the Harry Potter books, Madeleine L'Engle's memoirs, Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl and many, many more.
There's another problem. Bookstores. I love good bookstores and want to support them, especially since independent bookstores are not much in evidence these days. Last week I made a pilgrimage to Garrison Keillor's bookstore Common Good, http://www.commongoodbooks.com/which has recently opened in a new and larger location in St Paul. Yes, I came away with a new pile to add to existing piles. Never mind that only days earlier I had been to Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI http://readinutopia.com/and had helped boost their daily profit. Plus, I am thrilled to say that several people gave me books for my birthday. All terrific titles that tantalize me with taunts of "Read me next."
Theoretically, I have more time to read and that is a good thing, but there is so much more to read and that includes blogs and other online material and newspapers and magazines. I have always been addicted to magazines, but there is simply not enough time left to devour it all, and I am painfully aware of that fact.
I turn to Thich Nhat Hanh for advice.
Ah, I am ready to choose my next book and to live my 65th year, but I must admit I wonder what will be the last book I read!
So what's on your Book Bucket List? What do you want to reread and what books are waiting to be read for the first time? I would love your list, even though it makes me shudder to think about how my own book lists and piles could grow as a result.