Monday, March 2, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

Recently, less than three weeks ago because I am a Luddite at heart - fine, a Luddite who blogs, I get your point -- I jumped into the social internetworking pool and signed up with Facebook. It's one of those pastimes that can easily become addictive if one is very, very bad at creating structure for one's life and managing one's time effectively. Not naming any names.
Now that the initial high is passing, and the frenetic exploration of applications and miscellaneous side doodles (Dogbook, anyone?), I have time to reflect on some of the things I've ingested.

This isn't mine. It belongs to Wikipedia, or whoever.

One meme I particularly enjoyed was the 100 Books List -- don't Gooogle it right now, it'll keep. I have yet to find the original context of the list, ascribed to the BBC ("The BBC thinks you haven't read more than 6 of these..." ). The list is popularly interpreted as something like "The 100 Greatest Works of Literature, Which, if You Have Not Yet Read, You Must Begin to Do So Immediately Lest Your Brain Decompose and Dribble Out of Your Ear Like Oatmeal, You Colonial Imbeciles."

It seems pretty arbitrary to me, with The Five People You Meet in Heaven right in there with War and Peace and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Some of them are new, and while pleasant and thought-provoking, will not qualify as Great Works for another century or so. I did note that all of the books have been made into movies (I think), or in the case of the newer titles, have movie versions in the works, so I'm guessing that the original context was something innocuous like "have you read these, or did you see the movie?"
Now, I certainly believe the BBC would shake its manicured finger at us for not doing our homework, but I hesitate to ascribe to the Beeb anything more sinister than the lecture we all received from our high school English teachers about how the movie is DIFFERENT THAN THE BOOK and there will be questions on the test that will tell me if you've ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK, and the same goes for CLIFFS NOTES ...
We know that our teachers hated us, but do you think that this is why? Because we reduced them to begging? They gave us finely wrought gems, immaculate pearls, and yes, oh yes, we were swine.

All of this aside, at first I was very pleased with this list, and with myself, and gloated just a teeny little bit because I had read many of the books on the list, and got to put many little x-es in the left hand column. MANY books. Did I say many?
No, I really shouldn't. Well, okay, more than 50. I wont say how many, but it was approximately 83.75%
On the surface of course I was -- well, not falsely modest, but casual, so as not to appear to be gloating.
Then I realized how shallow and needy I am, my little Gollum mind.
Now I'm realizing how pathetic it is to blog about this, an opportunity to casually mention how many MANY little x-es I marked, and then to be clever and amusingly self-deprecating, and then falsely earnest about how its not really important in the grand scheme of things, to foster the impression that I'm a good person who will do better in the future, which excuses the gloating.

Shut up.

The 100 Books meme got stirred into the Bucket List meme in my mind, and I began to resent both of them for the same reason: not my list, monkey-boy, as Lord John Whorfin would say.
The books on the List that I haven't read yet are probably going to remain unread, with the exception of The Kite Runner and maybe His Dark Materials. Some of the books I have read I didn't like, some I hated, many bored me to tears but I slogged through because I'd be tested on it or I just wanted to say I'd done it, some I love so much I've reread them dozens of times.
Hey, blog fodder! I'll make a Bucket Book List! Post it and compare with friends! Kicky!
Here's the part that disturbs me: when I sat down to attempt a Bucket Book List for myself, I couldn't think of any.
Over the course of a day I was able to come up with several possibles, but each one resulted in, "Not really." Simone de Beauvoir, The Faerie Queen (I did try it), Gravity's Rainbow, all meh.
Today I thought of Virginia Woolf, whom I've somehow bypassed, and she went on the list, but that's it so far.
I've lost my appetite for books.
This is an appalling discovery for a book person, akin to realizing that one has lost the sense of touch, or the desire for sex or chocolate.
"Are you feeling well?" I asked me anxiously, "I told you not to go out in that sleigh with Bezukhov."

Perhaps I am merely grown wise with the passage of years, I thought, I know what I like, I don't waste my time.

Waste? Reading is a waste of time?

"Do you think that you've read all the good books? You're not that well read," I said to me with a sneer. "Getting lazy?"

No, and yes. Not lazy, precisely, or not just lazy. I still read, but things like short stories, and my Dad's poetry, and blogs, and trashy novels that I can blow through in a couple of hours.
I can't blame it on my kid, she's ten. I was still reading when she was a toddler, why not now that she doesn't need my undivided attention?
I can't blame it on work, because I'm home, and though there's a lot of work to do, I often blow it off for worse reasons than reading a good book.
I could blame it on psych meds, but I'm better and more focused now than I ever have been, and the reading ennui predates the drugs.
These days even thinking about reading a whole book makes me feel tired. I'm impatient with fiction, and no longer have the attention span to comprehend plot. I do still read some history and biography, maybe because the plot is pretty narrowly defined.
Is that it? That's the best I can do? What's going on here?

Yes, I do blame the Russians.


  1. This is way too much introspection. You'll drive yourself crazy!

  2. Oh you TOTALLY stole my idea!

    I'm touched.

  3. I'll allow it.

    Thanks for the warning. I reserve the right to ignore any books that make me lightheaded. Chuck Palahniuk has the distinction of being the first author I ever had to put down permanently.

  4. Commie pigs. And you misspelled Watchie. OK. OK, you semi Latina freakoid. Have to show off with the Spanish diphthongs, don't cha? And by the by, never trust a Brit to tell you what books to read. I mean, I'll bet they didn't even put Douglas Adams on the list. It's from D.A. I get my very favorite in all the world mantra. "Oh, don't worry. That's an S.E.P." What the hell do they know? And listen, my friend, don't let the commies control your mind. I did that once and... well, you know what happened. Ei-Yei! (That's Navajo for OMG. I'm reading Laughing Boy. At least some of us still READ!) And be warned... don't do any Charlotte Brontë. It'll ruin you.

  5. I have felt the same ennui regarding reading for the last 5-10 years! I too read more non-fiction now.

    I think what is going on is the threshhold for the reading addiction has just gotten higher. I used to get that 'can't put down', 'stay up all night' feeling with most books. Now it is very rare.

    The good news is when I read my old favorites like the Black Company series, I get the same response I did way back when.

    As a result, I've decide to take the high road, risk nose bleeds from the lofty heights, and simply say, "My reading palate has become more refined."