Tuesday, January 09, 2007

You are what you read

Well, it’s a darn good thing I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to write every day. All I can say in my defense is that once the gangrene set in I just didn’t have the energy to type. Just kidding. I really have no excuse, other than the fact that blogging has clearly slipped down a few rungs in my list of priorities. This week it fell somewhere below getting ready for the new semester, cleaning out my closet, building a computer out of paper and tape with Gabriel, explaining to Gabriel why we can’t actually install real internal components into said “Gabie XP” to make it function, and getting enough sleep for a change. Today, blogging falls just above packing up the last of the Christmas decorations, which is the project I am currently avoiding.

Archimboldo The Librarian
The 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.
So those are my current reads. I’ll try to resist the temptation to start another new one today, but I’m not making any promises.


Anonymous said...

OK, now I'm going to have to read Bird By Bird. I love Anne Lamott and have had this recommended to me so much times, ir's time to stop saying 'someday' and actually buy it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm so impressed. Currently on my "To Read" list? Ummm ... the latest copy of Consumer Reports?

I really need to get myself to the library.

Anonymous said...

Multiple "active" books? You must be some kind of freak. That's my excuse but you're welcome to use it.

And if you find you're able to make headway with G.E.B., please share the secrets of your success. I'd be willing to try again if I thought there was a chance I'd "get" any of it.
*shudders at the memory*

Anonymous said...

I have the opposite affliction, I have to finish one before going on to the next. Even if it's so painful I'm bleeding out the eyes . . . must . . . finish . . .

It's like how I eat. One thing at a time on my plate, finishing it in a neat, counterclockwise direction with fork held at 65 degree angle . . .

Okay, so I'm not THAT bad, but almost.

meno said...

I always read at least 3 books at once. Plus the "car" book.

I read Charlotte's web by the light of my electric blanket control, and sobbed when Charlotte died. My mother heard me and after figuring out that i wasn't hurt and what i was really doing, yelled at me and took the book away.

Anonymous said...

If I am reading a fiction book, I normally can't put it down and nothing gets done around the house until I finish. The kids, the laundry, the dishes, everything gets neglected. So I normally only end up having one book that I am reading ... in this category. However, I typically have quite a few other self-help, non-fiction, and church books that I am attempting to get through.

allysha said...

I'm glad you're back!

edj said...

LOL...I am always reading multiple books because I am lazy. I have one downstairs, one upstairs by my bed, one in my gym bag, one in my bag of stuff I take to class, one in the car, etc.
But then I'm always getting to a good part and taking the book out of its context! Then I'll get stuck in the car with nothing to read. A crisis worse than death, no?

Anonymous said...

I am also reading Bird By Bird, as well as Plan B. It was an Ann Lamott Christmas. I have always been a straight trough start to finish gal, but lately not so much. SO maybe it is adult onset ADD?

Ann said...

You're back! Whew! My daily dose of clever thoughts was significantly depleted until now.

Bird by Bird. She says some of the same things that other writing instructors have been saying, but she says it so well, with such humor and compassion and encouragement that I straighten up and work at my writing again after re-reading it. Now I can't wait to see what you produce when you finish it. I just hope you don't die.

Color sounds fishy to me, like a certain journalist was trying to come up with an excuse to write off some dreamy travel expenses in 2002. Dern. Wish I'd thought of it. I'm not afraid of bugs.

LaughingElk said...

Magic Kingdom

I love "Godel, Escher, Bach"! I've read it many times, but never straight through.

Reading GEB is like going to Disneyland (if Disneyland had art, music and math rides). It's funner if you revisit a few favorite rides, then try a few new ones you didn't have time for last trip.