Saturday, November 15, 2008

Argument for the Library Card, Part II

Writer Susan Cheever's bookshelves (ah, the envy)


Book Selectivity: it's like promising yourself you won't go out with an unattractive girl. Picking what to read is a dance: flirt with the cover, read the blurbs on the back, scan the jacket copy, see if you know anyone in the acknowledgments. I like to read the first sentence, the first page or two. Sometimes, I read the first chapter, and sometimes, I find myself in line buying the damn thing. Can't not buy, can't not buy.

But sometimes (and as a writer, this genuinely pains me), I give it the three minute appraisal and put it back on the shelf (can't we just be friends?)--reducing what was probably thousands of hours in the making to a mere three-minute consideration. I assert this is life, kids, but oh, how unfair. Like the audition, like the college application, like the demo CD (speed dating, anyone?). Consumer subjectivity becomes the bane of all artists. Taste be damned. Could there ever be a written work that has 100% universal appeal? NO, and if I put your book back on the shelf, I apologize. It's not fair, and I admit it.

If I can commit to reading 50 books a year, then that means statistically I am reading .00029% of all the books published annually (isn't it fun to think that every single one was written by SOMEONE, and was read by SOMEONE?). I do my part by buying the ones I read, and the selection process is a tough one. On a certain level, I do understand the capriciousness of the book editor. On the other hand, what makes it onto the shelf is well-loved.

How I wish to be like Carol (her comment to my last entry was that she reads nearly a book a day): less discriminating, more inclusive, better read. Better conversationalist. Her library card is flat worn out. She buys only what she must. She reads the way a great white eats: whatever is in front of her. And I know first-hand. I sent her my novel; I had a two-page synopsis/critique the following afternoon.

For whatever reason, this dichotomy fascinates me. One approach is like breathing, the other aroma therapy. Necessity? Luxury? Either way, it's all good. Here's to pages turning.

1 comment:

Sam Houston said...

I hear you, Sean. I've been averaging close to 150 books a year for a while but I can't help wondering what I'm still missing. I hear about so many great titles from other book blogs that I know I will never get to and I grieve a bit for myself and the authors.

We're a strange lot, aren't we?