"I know, I know. You're not very sympathetic. Why would you be? I'm living out your fantasy: I'm getting paid to read, I have (or have access to) all the books in the world and I have the time to read them."
Thus speaks Sara Nelson, an editor and publisher who has written a clever little offering, So Many Books, So Little Time. One can't resist trivializing, if only out of envy, a book that we all would have liked to have written, and would have too, had we but the fame and the connections.
Fancy, a book about reading books. A book in which the author can pick her favorites or her personal peeves, and regale us with opinions. What an incredible luxury!
Nelson, does, however, entertain us as she goes, we reluctantly admit. Her observations, while very personal and subject to endless argument, are after all only opinion, and presented in good humor. Along the way we are given glimpses of her private world, such as this about her son Charley:
"One early Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, Charley announced to me that he wanted to go immediately to the bookstore to buy the complete Captain Underpants oeuvre, a collection of six quasi-comic books by Dav Pilkey, who has made a fortune by recognizing that little boys can't get enough of the word 'fart.'"
Perhaps we have the best entry into the world of Nelson the private person in her unselfconscious description of re-reading Marjorie Morningstar, seeing in it her own younger self: "...like her, I wanted to be an actress, I swore I'd never again live in the suburbs, and most important of all, believed that love should conquer all." As Nelson so accurately declares, "An old book...can be your personal time machine."
And when, in reconsidering the heady romance of Anna Karenina, Nelson can say of her husband, "So I guess I'm just lucky that...he wasn't Vronsky after all." "While his obliviousness to the subtlety of emotion is one of his traits that drives me craziest, I also realize that it is exactly the trait that has allowed me to have my own secret life, the one that takes place in my library at dawn or in the subway at rush hour...my books are my secret lovers, the friends I run to to get away from the drudgeries of life, to try out something new, and yes, to get away, for a few hours, from him. He doesn't need to know that my books are the affairs I do not have." Well said.
Nelson set out, she says, to read fifty-two books in fifty-two weeks, and started with a to-read list which included Beloved, Leaves of Grass, and Madame Bovary. She read instead whatever came to her hand and more, some irresistible merely by their titles, as I Want That: How We All Become Shoppers. She freely admits that she still has a long must-read list - "Some things never change - and some books seem to never leave the must-read pile." Again, this is an easy truth to identify with if you are a compulsive reader who treasures the experience of reading and is ever reluctant to make the wrong choice and waste precious time.
"Explaining the moment of connection between a reader and a book to someone who's never experienced it is like trying to explain sex to a virgin," Nelson opines. The books we choose, the ones we love and would take with us to a desert island, are an indication of our deepest needs and dreams. "Reading is highly personal and often revealing. Readers have superstitious preferences and irrational dislikes."
I had to give up in the end and just like this "little" book, because it's well written and moved me along from chapter to chapter merrily, if not always with complete belief. I'm not sure it's entirely credible that Nelson took on the task of reading a book a week, and consider it more likely that she strung together a series of partially finished thread and wool gathered from past assignments, spinning the whole into a pretty cloth.
However it came into being, it makes a pleasant pastime and will be enjoyed by women writers, wannabe writers and readers who like to read about being readers.