I’ve mentioned here many times how bad I feel about all the nice, new books in my house that I never get around to reading.
I could blame Amazon, but the fault is mine.
When I was young, I devoured books. Not at any blazing rate, because I’ve always been a slow reader, but with ridiculously good retention. Whenever I had a free moment, that’s what I did. Perhaps it expanded my mind somewhat, but that’s not why I did it. I did it because it was fun.
But when I was an adult, I became lazy. I didn’t have much leisure time — wasting my days working and such — so when I did grab a few minutes to read, I kept it simple. Usually, I read something I’d read before, and which I could easily put down at any point.
I made some new discoveries, of course — John le Carré, and Patrick O’Brian, and to a lesser extent some others like Martin Cruz Smith. And I loved all of those, but I fell into a nasty habit. When I got time to read, I’d pick up Master and Commander or Tinker, Tailor or Gorky Park yet again, rather than committing to something new.
I’d see new books that interested me, or read a good review, and put that book on my Amazon wish list, with all the best intentions in the world. And my loved ones would dutifully give them to me, and I’d proudly put them on the shelf, yet when I got a moment for reading I’d pick up a dog-eared copy of Smiley’s People or perhaps something even older such as Stranger in a Strange Land, which first cast its spell on me when I was 16.
Well, no more. I asked for several books for Christmas, and I got them, and I’m going to read them.
I am. I’ll start with the ones pictured above, all Christmas gifts. I cleared my decks by finally finishing — on New Year’s Eve — a new book (new to me) that I’d dawdled over for half of 2021: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I enjoyed it, whenever I made myself buckle down and read any of it. I still hope to write a post about it, once I figure out how to tackle something that sweeping in a blog post.
On New Year’s Day, I started the new ones. That is, I started a book that I’d received for my birthday in October that I felt I needed to read before one of the ones below. It’s wonderful, truly. I should read new stuff all the time.
I haven’t promised a timetable or anything, but I’m going to get these read and then turn to some of the other couple of dozen I’ve got sitting around waiting. We’ll see how it goes. But I’ll definitely get to these:
- The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin. I actually read at least a third of this one years and years ago, and then set it down somewhere and managed to lose it. Having given up on finding it, I put it on my Amazon list way back when I first started such a list. Finally, someone has given it to me and I can’t wait to jump back into it. By the way this isn’t about Columbus and conquistadores and such. It’s about how humans invented such artificialities as the hours of the day and clocks to keep track of them. That’s what I remember from before. More interesting than you might think. Or as Wikipedia describes it, “Discovery in many forms is described: exploration, science, medicine, mathematics, and more-theoretical ones, such as time, evolution, plate tectonics, and relativity. Boorstin praises the inventive, human mind and its eternal quest to discover the universe and humanity’s place in it.”
- Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré. This is one of two that had remained unread by me when David Cornwell died, so I put them on my list. My wife gave me A Legacy of Spies for my birthday, and that’s the one I started yesterday, because it was the earlier of the two. My younger son gave me Agent Running for Christmas. The rush I’m getting from the one I’ve started is like reading Tinker, Tailor for the first time, back in the ’70s, not least because it is about the same characters (Peter Guillam mainly, but also Smiley and Alex Leamas, with mentions of Bill Haydon, Percy Alleline, Jim Prideaux, Toby Esterhase, Roy Bland and Connie Sachs)! This is amazing. Why did I take so long to do this?
- Old Abe, by John Cribb. This is a novel about our greatest president by an author I know nothing about, except that I’d heard glowing reports about his book, so I look forward to checking it out.
- The Mirror & the Light, by Hilary Mantel. This is the third book in her Wolf Hall trilogy about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell and others who were sufficiently unfortunate to find themselves within the close orbit of Henry VIII — Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and such. I read the first two sometime back, and have every expectation of it being good, although not so much for poor Cromwell.
You’ll note that this is a bit novel-heavy. Which presents a problem, because I’ve set myself a rule of alternating between fiction, which is fun, and nonfiction — which can also be fun but tends to be more of a hard slog, or at least easier to put down.
So in between, I’ll probably make myself finally finish reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (or his Grant), or take up that massive volume I also asked for and received for my birthday, Napoleon by Andrew Roberts. I feel particularly obligated to know more about Buonaparte. I often find references in my O’Brian novels to the geopolitics of the day confusing. It’s embarrassing to know so little about such an important period in semi-recent history. I figure an exhaustive biography of old Boney should be the cure for that, if I can make it through.
In any case, I’m determined to keep this resolution. I hope y’all will hold me to it.