Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Large Amount of Books

I am a self-proclaimed book collector. I research and travel to used bookstores (and some independent book stores) and buy whatever interests me and whatever I can afford. Don’t be impressed (yes, I know that I am assuming that there might be a small group of people who would think this is cool). AND don’t think that I am bragging – I am not buying rare books or first editions, nor am I trying to create some kind of public identity – I just love to buy books. My book collecting often reflects my research endeavors or current mood. One summer I purchased every used Agatha Christie book I could find in the Pioneer Valley, because I thought I would write my own mystery.1 Another summer I purchased every piece of American literature I could find that had Russian characters – I wanted to do a project about how American’s wrote about Russians before and after the Cold War. If I am feeling depressed or like I need some recharging, I buy poetry books. Sometimes I am orderly and try to buy every book by an author I like. I also will purchase books that I think I should own or should have read.2 This means that I have amassed a rather large book collection. Unfortunately, this book collection is largely unread and reminds me of all the things I say I want to do and never do.

I have often wondered why I need to buy so many books when I can borrow them from friends or the library. I am not sure I have the best justifications for my consumerism, but below is a list that explains why I think I need to physically own books and what I feel the ownership of a book provides me:

  1. Books are my favorite possessions. They adorn my shelves and I talk about them, to my closest friends who humor me, the way they talk about their pets.

  2. Owning a large amount of books is a luxury. I can wake up, look at my shelf at anytime, and read a new book or reread one of my favorite books. I also want to be able to write in the book, dog-ear certain pages, and shove personal notes into the pages of the books.

  3. If I am going through a personal crisis, I often turn to my favorite author, story, or character.3 I do not want to go to a store or library while I am lying in my pajamas and questioning all my life decisions that have led me to lie around in my pajamas!

  4. I like all the possibilities they present. Perhaps one day I will read them all or finish a project or two. Or maybe one day someone will be visiting and I can say, “I have the perfect book for you.”


Whatever the reason I know I won’t stop. Sadly, I recently decided to go on a book-buying freeze.

Why?

  1. I wanted to give myself a reading project – read most (not all, I seriously cannot commit to all) of the books on my bookshelf. (This really should be listed last since I came to this conclusion after reason 2 and 3, but I would like to pretend that this was the first reason.)

  2. I just moved into a studio and had to store most of my in my mother’s basement.

  3. I simply cannot afford to buy or shelve any more books right now.


I have found this self-imposed book-buying freeze both rewarding and frustrating,

The most rewarding part of my book-buying freeze is that I have decided to force myself to read some of the books I own, have always wanted to read, and have pushed aside. Two weeks ago I reread The Maltese Falcon and read The Thin Man (for the first time). While reading these books, I noticed how similar Dashiell Hammett’s writing style was to that of another of my favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway. Most recently I finished The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I cannot believe that I let this book sit on my shelf for so long. I am still trying to process everything I read and I am currently rereading my favorite passages. I don’t even want to move on to my next book. Reading these works made me realize that I was happy reading my long-ignored books. I realize now that I am drawn to certain writers, themes, and time periods. I think the books that I own actually speak to my personality. These authors have also made me read and write more than any of the trendy/new release books that I have picked up on I whim. This self-imposed book-buying freeze has also made me happy that I own so many books, that I can talk about them, and that I can pass them on.

However, I have also found this freeze incredibly annoying. I am denying myself the pleasure of reading Paul Auster. I could never find him in used bookstores, so I have never been able to pick up his work. A few days ago, I was in St. Mark’s Bookshop and I found most of his work.4 5 It was hard to look at it, hold it, read a few pages, and than walk away. I realized that I will never read all the books I want to. This made me sad.

So I thought I would write about my experiences (on LEL) about reading – what I am reading, what I want to read, and what I will never read. Warning: If you do not want someone to criticize some of your favorite books, like Harry Potter, you will not like this.

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1.For those people who don’t understand the appeal of Western Massachusetts, you should really read this article on the Pioneer Valley.

2.This is the main reason I purchased Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, I know deep down that I will never read it. I have read a lot about it. Doesn’t that mean I get the gist of it?

3.A good example of this would be Dan Kennedy's Loser Goes First.

4.This makes my top five list of bookstores. If you live in New York and haven’t been – drop everything and go now: http://www.stmarksbookshop.com/.

5.Also, if you do happen to go to St. Mark’s Bookshop, you won’t find Paul Auster in their literature section. You will find him in their “authors most stolen” section!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Parents

As a teenager growing up in Montana in the 1990s there wasn't much exposure to alternative or underground arts and culture. There wasn't even much exposure to mainstream U.S. culture. There was MTV, but they didn't show music videos any more, even though at that time it was still astute to comment on that fact. Local music involved aging cover bands, either hippie or redneck rocker. Local art meant mostly ceramics by hippies, half of whom had become moneyed professionals. The radio seemed, to me and my friends, like the best possible recourse (though still not good), because there was a classic rock radio station, and in the grim years between grunge and indie we turned to the music of earlier generations.

The music of my parents' generation, in fact. Once, after my dad spied a CD I had left on the dining room table, he mentioned a music festival he'd attended in Amsterdam circa 1970 featuring canonical rock groups like Pink Floyd and Santana. A sixteen-year-old enamored with the stuff, I could scarcely believe his nonchalance about the memory and his subsequent indifference to the music.

What could I expect, though? He was a born-and-bred Montanan, like me. My mom, on the other hand, was a Bay Area native, born in San Francisco and schooled in San Jose. Yet for her taste for parties, dancing, and social interaction—tastes that were, in my family, unique to her—she didn't have much interest in discussions of bygone music. The only clear recollection I have is her telling me the swell of pride her and her friends would feel when they heard the Beach Boys' "California Girls," as though Brian Wilson was writing specifically of them.

Making the story more peculiar was that these baby boomers (b. 1947 and b. 1948) met in San Francisco, epicenter of the counterculture, having each succumbed to the post-college gravity of large cities. My dad's relocation was the less probable and the less remunerative. He had a friend there, he got odd jobs, he ended up going back to school to get a professional degree. My mom was working her way up the ladder at a bank since engulfed by a larger bank many mergers ago. Her father helped her get the initial job.

As I get older it's easier to understand who my parents were in the 1970s in San Francisco. Somewhat detached, prone to irony and staying at home, not quite qualified to do the things they had recently decided they wanted to do, and not quite prepared to make the sacrifices to do those things, especially since no payoff was assured. Sympathetic to the grand social and political currents of the times, but not full-blown adherents of the hippie movement. Perhaps they arrived a little late, and had too much dignity to embark on a personal transformation so as to join the tail end of a vibrant culture. Or maybe they weren't these things at all, but it helps me to see them this way. It makes them like me, and it means they might understand the choices I face and make.