Tuesday, September 19, 2006

So many books

It’s said that John Milton read every book ever written during his life. I toss that factoid out to my students for the shock value alone, although I can’t really attest to the validity of that statement. I mean, I know there weren’t as many books back then, but it’s not like the Library of Congress had a comprehensive list or anything.

I’m thinking about Milton today because I’m currently reading two books I’ve never even looked at before: The Aeneid and Dante’s Inferno. No, this is not my idea of fun reading; I’ll be subbing for a friend later this semester while she’s out on maternity leave, and these two texts are part of the required curriculum. Somehow, though, these two classics never made it onto my reading list. The English Police are going to come take my degree away when word gets out that I skipped two major Western classics. Now I’m teaching myself and hoping the students don’t ask a lot of difficult questions. (And trust me, the rest of the texts I’ll be teaching will be from inside my comfort zone.)

While some folks will scorn me for skipping these texts (without any remorse until this moment), the fact of the matter is that there’s no way one person can read every single text ever written.

I’ve been acutely aware of this since I joined RWA and started hanging out with writers. Picture it: One minute you’re conversing nicely with the stranger you just met over a cup of coffee— the next, you realize you’re talking to a best-selling, multi-published author. You’re embarrassed enough that you didn’t recognize her name or face, but, even worse you can’t name a single book she’s written, much less say you’ve read one and speak intelligently about it.

There are so many books published every year, there’s no way I could read them all even if I tried. And if I tried, I’d never get anything else done and I’d probably go blind (like Milton did).

So many books; so little time. When I think of all the books I could be reading, it really irritates me that I’m wasting valuable reading time on stuff as boring as the Aeneid and Inferno*.

Take a look at your To Be Read pile. How high is it? Are there any books by new (to you) authors in there? Is there a book that every one of your friends has read that you haven’t yet (or possibly have zero interest in reading)?

How do you narrow down your book choices from everything out there to the books on your To Be Read pile?

PC— off to purchase Cliff’s Notes.

*If those are two of your all-time favorite books, I apologize. Different strokes, ya know. I’m sure you’re a very interesting person otherwise.

DON’T FORGET: You have until Amazing Child’s bedtime (8:30 Eastern/7:30 Central) to put in your request for the Pass It On copy of Kill the Competition. I’ll announce the winner later tonight and put the book in the mail tomorrow.


Linda Winstead Jones said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that my to-be-read pile has become a TBR bookcase. And it's full. Every year at conference, I pick up free books. These books look really good, but they're not marked for immediate reading like friends' or favorite authors' books. Still, I have hope. I'm still in the midst of a Big Cleaning, and this week I had the thought that if I never bought another book I probably have a lifetime of reading right here. Not that I'm going to stop buying books. Please. :-)


Smarty Pants said...

I try not to maintain a TBR pile because the sheer height of it would intimidate me. I have a bookshelf I put books on. When I'm ready, I grab one. We won't discuss the fact that I've still got the Diana Gabaldon book that Instigator loaned me last year this time, unread.

I didn't have to read the Aeneid, just the Odyssesy, in high school. Dante's Inferno caught up with me in college ethics. As far as I'm concerned, the latter is a piece of political tripe - an Italian on one side of the fence painting his opponents into the various stages of hell he feels they belong in. He develops some creative punishments for them, but really amounts to a bunch of finger pointing and stone casting.

My .02 at least.

Rhonda said...

I, too, have a TBR bookcase. Honestly, my reading time is so limited and precious that I always read my go-to "treat" authors first. if there's time, then I read my friends, and then if there's more time, I read whatever's left. If I'm working, I can't read romance at all, so that's when I pull out my Harry Potter collection. :-)

Kathy said...

I spend a lot of time reading research material. But whenever I get a chance, I do try to read some of the books on my TBR pile. Sadly, I'm usually so tired by the time I get to read for fun that I fall asleep shortly thereafter no matter how good the book is.

I feel like all the hours in my day are sucked into Dante's Inferno. Can anyone suggest a good vitamin to remedy this?


Playground Monitor said...

I have a TBR bookcase too. Actually this bookcase also holds my keepers. It has a LOT of books. When I'm ready to read something I peruse the titles and see what clicks for the mood I'm in at that time. Of course, this is outside the stuff I read because it's part of a series I'm hooked on or it's by a good friend and/or favorite author.

Several nights ago I pulled out one of the books I got at RWA. She's a new author for me and after hearing her speak at lunch, it's making the book even more interesting.

I did narrow down my pile when we moved last year. I did an honest assessment of the books and realized I'd never read a lot of them and took them to the used book store.


Lis said...

My TBR pile is two shelves worth, almost double stacked. There's a lot of new to me authors in there (trying to branch out a little)

And I have to say, I've never read Dante's either. I had two pretty cool teachers for AP English and we actually got to read the 'fun' books :)

Maven Linda Howard said...

I have hundred of books in my TBR shelves. That just means I have security; I'll never be caught without something to read.

Unfortunately, I read Dante's Inferno. PC, I'm so sorry you're having to slog through it. Why anyone would want to inflict this crap on students, I don't know. Let them read something interesting! Why force them to read something that may turn them off reading forever? I'm trying to think of a classic I actually enjoyed. Other than Shakespeare, who was the hack of his day, I can't think of a single one.

I think there must be a hidden code somewhere, and "classic" is synonymous with "boring crap."

Problem Child said...

That's the truly sad thing...I can think of 20 texts off the top of my head that would be much more interesting to sophomores...

We're just going to hit the high points in Inferno and move on to something fun.

Smarty Pants said...

Lucky students. I spent 6 weeks in summer school covering it for 2 hours a day. In depth torture!