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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Saturday, November 19, 2005

interests shifting like the wind

I don't read books. I read parts of books.

Although I've long known this about myself, I never characterized it in this explicit way before today. Kimmie and I went out for breakfast to the Corner Cafe, then I led us on to Indigo Books on Marine Drive so I could look for a book on the psychology of identity--a topic that is buzzing in my mind with my recent probings into my own life.

I discovered that the psychology section at our local Indigo is minute: a few short shelves among dozens of shelves of "self-help", "relationships", "addiction", and so on. The psychology section was about a quarter the size of the section devoted to the Chicken Soup books. Looks like my fellow North Shore denizens are not very interested in psychology. I would have to keep looking elsewhere--namely online.

I perused the philosophy section in case there was something there, then went to the only section that seems to be able to hold my interest in that store, the science shelves (different bookstores have different strengths--I'm not sure why). I wound up buying two books: Acquiring Genomes by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan ($25.95), a book about their theory that the appearance of new species occurs not through gradual change of a species' genome, but through the sudden and symbiotic combining of two previously unrelated genomes through the incorporation of one organism by another (this is my understanding of their point based on a fast peruse of the book); and The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski ($21.00), an analysis of why everyday objects in our lives are designed the way they are--an intriguingly offbeat inquiry, and one that plays into my own curiosity about every facet of my environment.

How can I be buying more books? I thought, considering that I have recently bought so many, and have so many unfinished or even barely-begun ones stacked on our coffee-table. The answer lies in the opening paragraph of this post. I don't read books. I read parts of books. I might read most of a book, or a little of it. Sometimes I read all of a book, the part in that case being 100%.

Is it because of my compulsion to buy more books than I can read? It feels that way sometimes--I leave off the books I bought two weeks ago to read the ones I bought yesterday. But I believe that this is to confuse cause with effect. I buy more books because my mind has moved on. My interest has shifted like the wind, and I must follow where it goes, when it goes. I want to know what I want to know when I want to know it.

It's normal for me to go back to an unfinished book and pick it up again where I left off, often with a renewed feeling of excitement and zeal. "Why did I leave off reading this?" I wonder. I left off because my interest had shifted. The wind shifted back again, so I can resume that book, months or years after I last picked it up.

Do I do this with novels? I often leave them unfinished, but I rarely go back to finish them, unless they are ones I already know I like. Then, quite often, I will start reading them again, and leave those too unfinished. Thus I have read Ulysses all the way through twice, but have penetrated various distances into it a number of times.

It's expensive to read this way. But I want to know what I want to know when I want to know it.

Now: teatime, and I'll dip into these new texts. And I did just order online Erik Erikson's classics Identity: Youth and Crisis and Childhood and Society. Let's see if I'm still interested when they arrive a few weeks from now.

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  • Well isn't this an interesting post! I seem to have a similar problem: I love books, would love to buy lots, and consequently have quite a few unread on my shelves. As I teach a classes in creative writing, novel and travel I often feel horribly embarassed at how far behind I am in my reading. However, like you, my pleasure reading time is limited and more often I am browsing through a historical research book or mostly just doing my own writing. Just this morning I decided that for the winter I ought to make a point of doing more reading just to catch up. Of course, then there's the novel to finish writing and those travel articles, and the play I got stalled with! What's the magic solution?

    By Blogger Wynn Bexton, at November 21, 2005 5:13 PM  

  • Hi Wynn--and thank you. My magic solution: simply embrace the way I am, rather than thinking I should be some other way. I love reading, and I read in the way that I enjoy most. It's not a way others might enjoy--but so what?

    By Blogger paulv, at November 21, 2005 6:14 PM  

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