It’s been a while since I read Calvino‘s delightful rant about books. It goes something like:
In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which are frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading,… With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They Are Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You’d Read Them, Too. (…)
So we are talking about choice here. The freedom to chose what we want to read. I read what they said I should be reading when I was 10, when I was 13, and when I was 16. But somewhere between 16 and 19, it all started to change. Obviously, I didn’t see it then as I do now. I’d begun reading books that I thought I should read, that I thought would help me shut that one up and impress this one more, that ostracised me from one bunch and endeared to me another. I was reading books that gave me sentences to build my bias of the world, I was reading books that I could recycle and regurgitate at will. Twenties came and gave me the gift of aesthetic and ownership. I stood before those books that had a glorious jacket, only to be dissuaded continuously by the good sense (of? No, I shall not digress there). I wanted buy the books I’d read and loved with the cover that I thought suited them. All the while validating and vilifying my choices.
I’m still doing some of all of the above.
You see I don’t trust my judgment. I don’t go to a bookstore, stop at the fiction rack, pick up a book- unheard of title (by me) and unknown author (to me), read the blurb, and go to the counter to pay for it. No, I don’t sink into the convenient chair or the low stool to read some more of the book, get a sense of what I would be in for, and then decide to buy it if I like what I read. I go to a bookstore, browse the incredible display of graphics arts manuals/guides, illustration copies, travel books, photography magazines, literary reviews, how-to books on gardening and recycling, and a few of those glossy coffee table spreads. I know I will not buy any of those, or at least not entertain the thought with my current financial status, and happily drift around as the clock ticks by. Oh, I do buy books. Online. Cheap paperbacks or second-hand… I also get them from garage sales, library sales, moving-out sales… And, I have a fetish of buying a book from every place I visit.
Coming back to my judgment, or the lack of it. I buy books that I know I should read. Time-tested classics, as Murakami’s Nagasawa would believe in. Books that a friend suggests would be wonderful. Books that authors I love recommend. Books that are referenced to in those that I’ve read. Paradoxically, I’m averse to the bestseller’s lists. I’m perpetually catching up with books, I do not find myself staring at the space wondering what to read next. I’m not a big fan of critical dissection either before reading the book and rarely find myself running to buy the recently discussed.
None of this, though, is to reflect on my experience of the book.
How would I fare then with this new world of self publishing, its experimental literary fiction, it’s liberating Social Disease, underground tweet marketing, and indie movement? There are times when I wonder if I can ever be one of this generation; on top of my rss feed, bedside books, magazines in the loo, and running for more.
P.S. Literary agent Nathan Bransford on the silent rejection in future.