It is so much easier to buy books than to read them. I have already resigned myself to the reality that I’ve bought more books than I can possibly ever read (see Turning Fifty Redux). But I can’t stop buying them. I love browsing in book stores, losing myself in the stacks and escaping into another era of history or feeling virtuous about reading some classic literature or finding the next great piece of modern fiction before all the book clubs are on to it.
Inevitably, I leave the store with good intentions. For some reason, I thought it was a great idea to purchase the first three volumes and 2,000 pages of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Whenever I look at them now, I cringe at the prospect of spending a year immersed in the details of LBJ’s life. I don’t have particularly fond memories of him to begin with, and I can’t imagine why a great historian has dedicated the last 35 years to writing about him (he’s still working on the fourth volume). But at least they look good on my bookshelf, as does James Joyce’s Ulysses and William Faulkner’s three volume set of As I Lay Dying, The Sound and The Fury, and Light in August, all of which I’ve been meaning to get to for the last thirty years. My bookshelves are very impressive. That’s because I keep all the John Grisham and James Patterson books (which I’ve actually read) in the attic.
They say you should never go to the grocery store when you are hungry. Well, you should be careful about your state of mind when you go to the bookstore. I can’t imagine what a dark mood I must have been in when I purchased Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock, or how guilty I was feeling when I bought Martin Gilbert’s 1000 page The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War, or how persecuted I was feeling when I got my wife Germaine Greer’s The Change: Women, Aging and The Menopause for her birthday.
The advent of the Kindle and other e-readers, coupled with one-click wireless shopping, has exponentially elevated the risks of book browsing. Now I don’t even have to leave my couch and before you know it I’ve got Searching for Modern China, A Modern History of Japan, and Tibet: A History wafting their way through hyperspace to me with the click of a button. They all seemed fascinating when I read the online reviews, but I still haven’t finished James Michener’s Hawaii from my trip to Hawaii 15 years ago.
Now that I’ve been thinking about all my unread and unfinished books, I feel really guilty. So I am going to sign off now, go read a few paragraphs and fall asleep.