I am a book counter. I love to read but, also, I love to add what I’ve read to my list, to my collection, to my hoard, to run my fingers through the shiny pelts of the books I have known, now pinned and mounted on the wall. It’s not high-minded, it’s avaricious. But it is motivating, and in January and February I was on a tear.
I added over a dozens of books to my cache, particularly memorable specimens include the fantastic and fantastically hot beginning of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, the becalming trip of Lolly Willowes‘s ending, some snippets of Brother Of a More Famous Jack zippy screenplay dialogue, the acrid, burning satire of Black No More, and the dolphin emoji from Oval—the protagonist, upon receipt of a text message she doesn’t want to deal with, replies with an intentionally mystifying dolphin. Perfect. All of this led up to Bleak House, which I read for all the lofty reasons, and also, you know, to brag. “It is the cherished prerogative of an uneducated person, to save Bleak House for the end of the world,” Patricia Lockwood recently wrote. Needless to say, when I read it I didn’t know about the looming end of the world.
Then, like everyone else I couldn’t read at all. I spent months with the same four library books, one of which I almost finished (Vernon Subutex, very good, the “almost finished” as complimentary given the circumstances as if I’d devoured it under normal ones) and the rest of which I cohabitated with so long, they almost stopped giving me reproachful looks. I let go: it was fine, there would be time to read some moment in the future when there was actually much less time to read, but more of an ability to do it. And then in early May Elizabeth Jane Howard‘s The Light Years came from the library, like it had twice before. A kind of missing link between Maugham and Melrose, it’s a genteel generational British family saga where people actually have sex, all set on the looming eve of the Second World War, which they believe they can still avoid. Who knows why this was the one that broke the spell—readable masterpiece theater, maybe?—but this time, I read it.
Slowly, but steadily I started collecting again, among them the chewy sci-fi of The Fifth Season and The Three-Body Problem (the sequels to both of which I promptly spoiled for myself on Wikipedia), Lauren Michele Jackson‘s vision re-arranging essay collection White Negroes, Shirley Hazzard‘s gleaming little love shiv The Evening of the Holiday, Mischa Berlinski‘s underappreciated novely-novel Fieldwork, part of a mini-genre I love: the anthropology novel, which also includes Mating and Euphoria, and finally and most of all Wallace Stegner‘s Crossing to Safety, about the long friendship between two married couples where nothing dramatic happens except all of life.
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