Bad Girl buys too many books. She doesn’t go to the library, as a frugal older person on a limited income should do, because she doesn’t want to wait for the book she wants. With books, she’s the instant gratification type.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t wait once she owns it. Her wants are sometimes fleeting. Or they require serious undivided attention for at least a week or more and therefore cannot be attended to right now. Or they may be such frivolous impulse purchases that she feels she’d be wasting time with them best spent elsewhere, and needs a long beach vacation or a broken bone that requires much rest while it heals in order to justify indulging herself in these frothy trifles.
As a result, she is behind, far far behind, on her reading.
Last night — driven by guilt — she lined up on the windowsill all the books she’s acquired in the last three years or so that she still hasn’t read, the ones that came so easily with a click of the mouse from Amazon. [Without shipping charges, of course — because Bad Girl is a Prime Member.] Or came from Bill, a Bad Boy himself in this regard, because he thought she might be interested, so how can she give them back? [Actually, she gave many back, or else the windowsill wouldn’t have been long enough.]
Amazon isn’t Bad Girl’s only accomplice here. There’s also Kindle, for when she really and truly can’t wait even the two days it takes from Amazon. Except she clearly can wait, because she hasn’t read any of these yet either, except some of the Janet Malcolm on the train going in to New York.
And let’s not forget iBooks, where three of the five titles on her iPad were free, which is why she acquired them in the first place. Acquired for when? When is she going to sit down for a romp through The Brothers Karamazov, or Shakespeare’s Sonnets? If she ever finds herself on a desert island, will there be a charger station for the iPad?
Bad Girl is well aware that the eleventh of her twelve principles for getting better at getting older, as set forth in this very blog at the beginning of the year, is “Invest in Me. (Spend on doing, not acquiring.)” She feels, however, that books are a special case. They may be tangible objects to be acquired. [If in digital form, the tablet on which to read them is the tangible acquisition.] But unless you’re buying books with no intention of actually opening them, solely because you are decorating the walls of a library to be photographed in Dwell Magazine, you’re acquiring them to do something more with them. Sooner or later, you’re going to read them. And reading is doing.
So why isn’t Bad Girl getting on with it? Apart from the somewhat superficial excuses offered above? Because she’s already reading her head off in the time remaining after laboring over blog posts, making the bed, getting in the groceries, wondering whether to resume piano lessons. She belongs to two book groups, each of which tackles a non-frivolous book a month. The first is a History Reading Group; she joined it after some procedural difficulties (another story, another post) because she thought reading history would be good for her. Now she knows she was wise not to major in History when in college, but she can’t skip a month’s reading with this group, because after some attrition among the other members, she found herself unanimously selected as Chairperson before she had a chance to say no. It’s hard to show up and admit you haven’t read the book when you’re Chairperson. So right now, she’s reading this:
As a non-historian, Bad Girl rarely vetoes the choice of those members of the group who are, or were, historians, unless the book looks very long and very dry. The Stewart book was written by a former lawyer, which for her was a plus in its favor; believe it or not, lawyers tend to write clearly, which cannot be said of all historians. It was selected by the others, without demurrer from Bad Girl, because the last book the group read was Gore Vidal’s Burr, a fictionalized version of Aaron Burr’s life and of the political history of the time as Vidal imagined Burr would see it.
One of the members of the group who admits he is uncomfortable with fiction therefore wanted to read, as a check on any possible flights of fancy in which Vidal might have indulged, a book about Burr which purports to be all historical fact. This despite Robespierre’s famous declamation that “Fact is fiction!” — which Bad Girl mentioned during the meeting. The proponent of the Stewart book thought Bad Girl was teasing him and brushed past this interesting idea. [As a result, it may become a future post.] Bad Girl is therefore reading the Stewart book. She has until February 28 to finish it.
[Who was Aaron Burr? A colonel in the American Revolution and George Washington’s aide, he later became Thomas Jefferson’s first Vice-President. But he was most famous for being the Founding Father who in 1804 killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel over some “despicable” animadversion on his — Burr’s — name. Vidal hypothesized in his fictionalized account that Hamilton’s “despicable” remark was that Burr had slept with his own daughter. However, there is no documentation to support the hypothesis, and Vidal doesn’t claim there is. Burr was later tried for treasonable conduct in the Western part of the new United States, the part that’s now the Mid-West, and was acquitted. But you don’t need to know all that. Or if you do, read the book.]
The second book group to which Bad Girl belongs meets monthly from September to May — each time in the home of a different member. [There are just enough members to make it through the nine months.] All the members are women “of a certain age.” Each gets to pick a book. Since the hostess-members come from a variety of educational backgrounds and countries of origin, it’s hard to generalize about what is chosen. So far this year, the group has worked its way through
(1) Proust’s Swann’s Way (in Lydia Davis’s excellent new translation) for the two meetings in September and October: one section of the book per month, leaving the third section, “Place Names,” for optional reading on one’s own;
(2) Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, a doorstopper of a book, for the meeting in November;
(3) Leslie Maitland’s Crossing the Borders of Time, a book Bad Girl could hardly bring herself to finish and does not recommend, for the meeting in December; and
(4) Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad for January. This fourth book was Bad Girl’s own choice. She bought it when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and inserted it into the group’s reading for the year because it has been described as “post-post-modern” and would therefore prove controversial with the other ladies. Also because it had been sitting among the unread purchases on her metaphorical windowsill for over a year, and she really wanted a mandatory reason to read it.
Now she has read it, and will be glad to offer her thoughts about this intellectually stimulating, highly participatory and beautifully constructed novel if anyone leaves a reply expressing desire for them.
Bad Girl also wants you to know that up ahead for the group is Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac in February (fortunately Bad Girl has already read it several times); Madame de Stael’s Delphine and Corinne in March; Christa Wolf’s Medea in April; and Henry James’s Portrait of A Lady — already on the windowsill — in May.
Moreover, she has an additional excuse for the book-laden windowsill. Besides the Egan and Stewart books, she has currently been reading the first volume of Parade’s End. This she purchased so as to better understand the plot of the movie made from the book — a movie she saw only for more Benedict Cumberbatch viewing pleasure than was available until last Sunday, when the third series of Sherlock began.
Nonetheless she probably won’t finish the Ford book right now. She’s read enough to understand how Tom Stoppard cut and pasted its separate parts to make the shooting script she couldn’t follow (not having previously read the book). She must hurry on to other things. Sadly, in the near future Parade’s End may well join her many other unread books on the windowsill.
Bad Girl did intend to make a full confession here by listing the titles of all the books on the windowsill (for the most part not visible in the photograph) and on her iPad — which holds both her Kindle and iBook purchases — and then explaining why she wanted them, or agreed to accept them, in the first place. But that, as you can imagine, would take many more paragraphs and therefore be too much for one post. Not everyone who visits her blog is as book-mad as she is.
However, it is possible she will return tomorrow, in the first person, to finish the job. And perhaps even the day after that — if there are enough pleas for her views on A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.