Monday, May 09, 2005

The Books in the Basement

Gwenda asks "What kind of reader are you?" (Another probing question!) I am, I suppose, an anxious reader, which should surprise no one who knows me well. I read always aware that there are many more things to read, always weighing the quality of whatever I am reading against the millions of things I could be reading. I read with a gnawing awareness of the hundreds of unread books in storage in the basement of my apartment building, and the hundreds of other books which I do not own. Ironically, for someone who has chosen librarianship as his profession, I am very much a person who wants to own books. I particularly love finding out-of-print gems at used book stores and estate sales. Except for the genre magazines, I am not a person who tries very hard to keep up with contemporary fiction. I'm much more interested in reading works written before I was born, or even better, before my great-great-great-great-great grandparents were born. Not that age is a guarantee of quality, but for me there is more satisfaction in "discovering" for myself the genius of Cervantes or Ovid than in snapping up the new literary superstar-of-the-month. I am a reader who loves to learn about history, most especially history as revealed in the best biographies, where context is so much of character. I am a reader who loves story and technique equally, and is most pleased when they are harmoniously combined. I am picky, and sometimes I get frustrated and wonder if I will ever find another book that will blow my mind. I read a lot of books that fall just short of greatness, and they irritate me even when I enjoy them. But once in a while--two or three times a year, perhaps--I read something that helps me forget the books in the basement and restores my faith in this endless search. (Hm, maybe I'll make a list one of these days.) I usually read at least three things at once; a novel, a nonfiction book, and a short fiction collection or magazine. Except when researching, I will not waste my time with a book that I'm not interested in after 20 pages or so--with short stories, I sometimes give up after the first paragraph. I have to think of the books in the basement, after all.


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