Archimboldo The LibrarianThe other thing I’ve been doing more of recently is reading. I loaded up on library books right before Christmas and am currently in the middle of about 10 of them. Does everyone do that? Read several books at once? I drive myself crazy because I can’t just start one book and finish it before moving on to the next. No, I have to start one book, read for a while, then pick up another one, peruse a few chapters, take another one in the car, bring a different one with me to the doctor’s office, and so on. It’s not that I get bored with the books. I just can’t wait to start new ones so I end up reading them all at once. I’m sure there’s a psychological explanation behind it. Maybe I have adult-onset ADD. Or maybe I’m just afraid if I actually finish a book before its due-date, I’ll die. Like Mozart not wanting to finish his Requiem Mass because he sensed it was for his own funeral.
Anyway, right now I’m in the middle of the following books:
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – a book about writing by one of my favorite contemporary writers. This is probably my fourth time through it. Maybe I should just break down and buy a copy already.
- Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay – a strange book about the sources of pigments written by a journalist who travels all over the world to do her research. I’m re-reading this book because it’s my turn to pick the next book for our book group and I remembered really liking this one. Now I’m also remembering that it had some dry sections, and while I found most of it fascinating (especially the part where she tells how the red coloring in some foods and lipstick comes from the blood of squashed Cochineal beetles, yum), the book might not appeal to the rest of the group. Can I just say that I hate picking out the book group book?
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. – I’m reading this with Gabriel. I already read it to the older boys years ago so now it’s Gabie’s turn. I hope to finish it before we go see the new movie – especially because I’m afraid Gabie might be upset about the minor detail of a main protagonist kicking the bucket at the end. I suspect the child who was devastated by the deaths of baby penguins in “March of the Penguins” may need some advanced warning this time.
- Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter – I confess I’m only sort-of reading this one. I checked it out thinking that this time I might actually understand what he’s talking about. Nope. It still makes my brain hurt.
- The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes – A classic book about the rise and fall of Modern Art. It’s the kind of book I love to read but since I have to take notes as I go along (I’m always finding interesting details and ideas I want to add to my lectures) I can’t exactly take Mr. Hughes along with me to the doctor’s office. Or read him when I’m nursing the baby. Or when I just need something to make me sleepy at night. Ditto for the stack of other art books (Bellini, Brueghel, Picasso and Dali) in the corner of my room.
- Dave Barry Turns 50 – Here’s the book I can actually read when I’m feeding the baby or have a few minutes to spare amid chauffer duties. Dave is my idol. I think he’s the funniest writer on the planet and I aspire to be half as witty and irreverent as he is. Of course I wouldn’t mind also being half as rich as Dave, but that’s pretty unlikely.
- Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Cynthia Saltzman – my newest fascinating find. It’s basically the biography of a painting. Saltzman tells the story of how the portrait by Van Gogh passed through the hands of various collectors and in the process rose in value until it set a record when it was sold in 1990 to a Japanese businessman for 82.5 million dollars (a record that has since been eclipsed several times). I’m currently in the part where the Nazis have confiscated the portrait and labeled it “degenerate art” which means it’s not worth displaying in a German museum but it is worth selling overseas – the proceeds of course going to fund the war. Hitler’s culture board may have been stupid when it came to judging great art, but they were not stupid when it came to making a profit from great art theft.
- I also have a perpetual cocktail of self-help, parenting, and spiritual books on the nightstand next to my bed – because like the pious monk who flagellates himself to keep his pride in check, my life would be incomplete without the regular reminders of the many things I’m doing wrong, or should be doing better or shouldn’t be doing at all. I ought to just beat myself over the head with the books and save myself the trouble of reading them.