on reading

I haven’t been getting much reading done this year, which annoys me. Not just because it’s something I love to do, of course, and not just because it’s sort of part of my job as a writer–but because, you guys, I’m running out of time! Seriously, I recently saw someone post something to the effect of “gosh, even if I read for six months straight I wouldn’t get through my to-read list” and I thought six months? SIX MONTHS? Give me a lifetime and I still couldn’t make it through all the books I want to read! A few years ago I finally confronted this reality head-on: with (if I’m lucky) several decades still left to me but not an actual whole lifetime, reading a reasonable X books per year… I wouldn’t even come close to finishing my reading list. (Yes, I have a reading list. Several of them, in fact, and arcane systems for noting which books are higher priority than others and that sort of thing. Crossing off things on these reading lists gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Stop looking at me like that.)

So anyway. When I look back at 2012 thus far and the disappointingly small number of books I’ve gotten through, what I see are sands through the hourglass, marking off all the hours of my life that I could’ve been catching up on thrilling and important classics like Don Quixote and was doing something else, probably less worthwhile, instead. There are a number of reasons why this is the case; there’s the ever-popular “busy and distracted,” which is kind of lame but also true. But, you know, I really chalk it up to getting bogged down early in the year with House of Leaves, which is a book that by all rights I ought to have loved. I did not. This book took me like a month and a half to get through and while I was reading other stuff in between, I was determined not to abandon my efforts to conquer this one. I’ll let my Goodreads review (no spoilers) speak for itself:

It’s taken me nearly a week after finishing it to decide how many stars I wanted to give this book (wavering between 2 and 3) and what I wanted to say about it. The problem is, I like some things about it very much and other things not at all. I quite liked our narrator, Johnny Truant (unlike a lot of readers, apparently); I liked the story of the house on Ash-Tree Lane; I liked the sense of cosmic horror; I liked the post-modernist trappings–or I would have, had they, in the end, seemed to me less gimmicky, and more integral to the book itself. Not necessarily to the plot or the story–I was willing to follow this book down a very strange rabbit hole and into many extraneous alleys–but for all its typographical oddities and letters and lists and footnotes and stories-within-stories flourishes, in the end, it added up to not very much at all. And that made me sad, because I really wanted to fall madly in love with this book, like so many before me have done.

(It got 2 stars from me, by the way.)

Worse, House of Leaves actually invaded a short story I was trying to write, one which I’d begun before even acquiring the damn thing, but which had several features notably close to the book itself. My story ended up haunted by the book I couldn’t get through! And I had to abandon the story, of which I was quite fond. Recently it’s been looking like I can fold some parts into another story I’m working on, but I’m still pretty bitter all around about how this played out.

The two best books I’ve read so far this year have both been crime fiction–Daniel Friedman’s Don’t Ever Get Old, about a tough-as-nails octogenarian ex-cop (he was the model for Dirty Harry back in the day) and his young nephew Tequila, and Erin Kelly’s terrific The Dark Rose, about damaged people and their secrets. I’ve also been reading quite a few comics, and at the moment, novel-wise, I’m just a few pages away from finishing Roland Torpor’s The Tenant, on which one of my favorite horror movies (same title) was based. It turns out the movie is remarkably faithful to the book. Poking around once again on Goodreads, I learned that Centipede Press released a limited edition of this novel a few years ago with an introduction by Thomas Ligotti. It’s probably  just as well I didn’t know about it, as I’d only have fretted that I was unable to buy it. The other book I’m reading is a Viking adventure: The Long Ships, Frans G. Bengtsson’s classic story of Red Orm, reissued and beautifully presented by NYRB Classics, an imprint which consistently does such awesome work. I wish I could buy pretty much everything that they publish. It’s really good, although I’m not exactly ripping through it, mostly because, as I said at the beginning, I just don’t seem to be setting aside enough time for reading; trying to squeeze in a few pages between climbing into bed and falling asleep isn’t really doing the trick.

And this is no way to make serious inroads on my reading list before I die! Worse, none of these books I’m talking about are even on any of The Lists!

This way lies madness, doesn’t it? I know it does. But it will be a beautiful madness, surrounded by stacks of books old and new and read and unread and a million million million words whispering to me across centuries and civilizations and there will be journeys and wars and lovers reunited and hunts for great white whales and mad first wives in attics and remembrances of things past and there are too many of them, too many pages, too many adventures, too much of it all to ever read everything I hope to read before I die, and what a wonderful problem to have, because can you imagine the sorrow that would occur on the day you closed the cover on The Last Good Book?

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