Books and Death

I put a new personal description up on my Anobii home page last night, the book catalogue widget on the sidebar there. I jokingly said that I read books to stave off the inevitability of a sad lonely death, and that I find funny books do this best. Sort of typical E@L black humour. But am I really joking?

Image of 1001 Books

And then I joined a discussion group about Peter Boxall's popular Christmas gift from a year or two ago "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." Obviously you won't be reading too many more of them AFTER you've died, right?

I checked against the list and counted off my COMPLETED hits - 282. 28.2%. Not too savage, I guess. However, not one Clive Cussler or Robert Ludlum made the list, oddly enough.

I then checked to see how many books I have marked on Anobii as having read so far this year. Only 20 in seven months. 35 marked as completed last year (maybe more that aren't on the Anobii list.) Why AM I buying all these books if I am reading them at such a deathly pace? My flat looks like a bomb hit an antiquarian book-shop. Who am I kidding? I'll never read all these things. There are about 4000 books lying around my flat on a variety of bookshelves, bedside tables, couches, desks, bathrooms and floor space, about half of them unread and the other half only half-read. At 35 a year - that's going to take me six or so years just to tidy up this lot, not counting the ones at home, and providing I don't go out tonight and buy even more, like the Cormac McCarthy one that the Coen Bros have just fillumed.

But I have read a lot of great books over the years, I guess, compared to people who read less. However the memories of what I've read IN those books are slipping away. What was the key plot twist in Eleanor Rigby, for example. DID I even finish that? What colour were the curtains in Pride and Prejudice? Gone. (A typical Nabokovian exam question from when he was teaching literature at, where was it, Cornell?) What was the name of the Dostoyevsky novel Nabokov asked this question about but I couldn't think of just then and had to substitute "Pride and Prejudice" for; you know, the one where the woman threw herself under a train? Lost. What happens in Things Fall Apart? Couldn't tell you, and it was only last year I finally read it, after it had been sitting in my library since high school.

Am I *really* trying to live forever by having this huge store of unread / half-read / half-remembered books? Why can't I start them, and then why can't I finish them? Are my tastes too educated for my intellectual capabilities, as Sir Peter Medewar intimated in my last post?

Schopenhauer: "When we buy books we think we are also buying the time to read them." He meant the time of day, the spare hour after supper, I believe. But his point also holds for the longer time frame: the long run. We have to read these 1001 volumes before we die. And the corollary is that we CAN'T die until we have finished them, so we hoarde them, staving off said death! Just let me finish this...

But in the *very* long run we'll all be dead, as someone said. (I probably read it somewhere.)

Interviewer: Do you want to achieve immortality through your works?
Woody Allen: No, I want to achieve immortality through not dying.


So, why do YOU read?


Damn unsatisfied with this post. There was something else I wanted to say, some other point I wanted to make. I've forgotten it. Something I read, somewhere, somewhen.



Posted by: expat@large on Jul 31, 07 | 7:43 pm | Profile


^#*()@! I used that same Woody Allen quote as my IM status message last week.


Why do we need to remember what we've read? There's no exam to be taken. Why not be satisfied with enjoying it as we read (or not, in which case, we stop reading) and then not care so much about quoting passages afterwards. Then again, I'm not the intellectual you are ;)

Posted by: knobby on Aug 01, 07 | 12:54 am

because i can..and i like it, sugar ;)

Posted by: savannah on Aug 01, 07 | 6:46 am

Knobster: we are but the sum of our memories, our knowledge and our wisdom. (I made that up.) The more I read about things, the more I know about what we have done, what we can do, and how we justify ourselves for the bounty and dread of living. Essentially then, to find the meaning IN life. However the book I bought last night (No Country For Old Men) is basically a modern cowboy shoot-em-up - it's great!

Sav: but why do you LIKE it?

Posted by: expat@large on Aug 01, 07 | 11:08 am

you always know when i'm being flippant...i LIKE it because there's always something new, some insight into life/me/concepts i hadn't considered..isn't that why we read? to learn, be entertained....pick up new pithy saying to share/quote with our friends? ;)
i haven't read this book, but the review made me think of you and why we read

Posted by: savannah on Aug 02, 07 | 10:07 pm


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