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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, May 27, 2005

the stack

Woke reluctantly (finally took half a Sleep Aid after crashing at 11:10 or so, having come home from a couple of beers with my friend Gordon at the Maplewood Pub) to a hot spring day. Kimmie was already up and cheerful. She'd pulled the navy-blue meditation cushion on its navy floormat from under the bed, ready to do her 5-10 minutes as soon as I evacuated the bedroom. I forced myself up and did so.

Morning notes: True Believer; Alexander the Great; and another book I pulled from my office shelf yesterday afternoon at teatime, The Origins of Scientific Thought by Giorgio de Santillana. While I was reading Alexander yesterday, the balcony door open behind me and the warm air and loud sounds of traffic streaming in, I decided I wanted to pick up Origins again, a little Mentor paperback I got in January. (I had to buy this copy from a bookseller in California when he reported in his description of the book: "excellent condition; a faint smell of cigarette smoke but you have to stick your schnozzola right into the gutter to smell it." I had to reward this description with a sale! He was right--very faint cigarette smell, but only if I stick my schnozzola into the gutter.) The book is from the original printing in 1961.

I'm trying to lean even further in the direction of following my hunches as to what to read. I generally do this anyway, but I often am still nudged by a feeling of obligation to continue with a book, especially if I've just bought it and have read only the first few pages. This habit of switching books as the mood takes me goes back at least to the early 1980s, when I was living with Brad and Keith on 12th Avenue. Occasionally, and only semi-jokingly, they would try to ban the stack of books I had piled on a corner of the coffeetable, or vote in ordinances to limit the number of books that could be stacked there at any one time. I felt a bit embarrassed, and made perhaps slight occasional efforts--no more than that--to comply. From that time on, "the stack" has been a part of my life--and the life of anyone who has happened to live with me. (I don't recall having a stack when I still lived at home with Mom. Maybe a baby stack: the forerunner of its mighty descendants.)

Kimmie has tried to ban my stack from time to time (not for a few years now, though--thanks honey). Arguably a stack of books on the corner of the coffeetable (we're talking about a stack that fluctuates from maybe 8 to 20 books) is unsightly, although I personally don't think so. To quote the title of an Anthony Powell novel, books do furnish a room; and if they furnish a room sitting on shelves, why not out of the shelves, in use?

In the more combat-prone times of our marriage, the stack has become one of the battlegrounds, admittedly a minor one, usually no more than a skirmish-point. I'm not unarmed in that battle, since most other horizontal surfaces in the house, certainly in the livingroom, are covered with figurines, vases, plush toys, seashells, model ships, cameo photos, candles, and other things, none of which is mine. Battles have receded into truce when I've tried to horse-trade horizontal real estate.

Lately even I admitted the stack was getting to be too much. I was afraid to count the books. I think it was about 20. But there were no shelves for them. Kimmie was very sympathetic and seemed unconcerned. When I put up the new Ikea shelves, I thinned down the stack, keeping only those books that I have read recently. Here's what's in the stack right now, from the top down (with acquisition dates):

Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox (May 2005)
The Soul's Code by James Hillman (January 2005)
A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2nd divison, vol. 2, by Emil Schurer (January 2005)
What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis (February 2005)
The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz (January 2005)
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (December 2004: Xmas present from Kimmie)
The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes (April 2005)
DNA: The Secret of Life by James D. Watson (December 2004: another Xmas present from Kimmie)
McGraw-Hill's Atlas of World Events by John L. Allen, Ph.D., (April 2005)
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (December 1988)

Ten books. I keep Webster's 9th edition on the coffeetable because I have the 10th edition down here in my office, ready for use while writing.

Oh--I forgot: there's one more on the stack now: The Origins of Scientific Thought. (I brought it down temporarily to talk about it in this post.) Even though I was really enjoying and admiring this book when I first started reading it in January, at some point I realized that I hadn't picked it up in several weeks, and brought it downstairs to file in my "science" shelf. De Santillana is a thinker who sees into the depths of his topic, looks deep beneath the appearances to see essences--exactly the kind of thing I like. With my characters addressing scientific topics, I suddenly felt the need to pick up this book again (at page 67) and keep going.

It's just about teatime now: time to go do some reading.

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