Friday, October 15, 2010

It's All Gone Very Quiet



I can't seriously believe that anyone misses posts at this blog all that much, but if you're wondering why there's not much happening here, it's because I've found myself caught up in a classic Socratic dilemma: The more I read, the more I realize how little I know, which means I have to read more, which results in me realizing how little I know, and round and round we go. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to have a firm opinion on anything. Of course, you might say, that never stopped me before, but that's because I hadn't read as much as I have now. ;-)

Here's some idea of the scale of the problem:



This is actually my CD shelf converted to hold books. My CDs are all in boxes and in the attic unless I play them regularly. There are one or two reference books here that I can knock off the list of "to reads," and there are a couple of books mixed in here that I've read but kept in the same place for ease of recollection.   Cassell's Dictionary of Slang is a cornucopia in its own right and deserves to be read in its entirety. At some point.

There's no great order to this collection, since I've bought new shelves recently to give me more space, but I've managed to keep the J.G. Ballards together.




These are actually books that I've read. Most of them, anyway. I hold onto them if they have reference or sentimental value, otherwise I pass them onto charity via my wonderful friend Trish. Looking at these now, I could get rid of a fair number, but I doubt anyone would want them. The framed photo is me and Felix Savon in Havana.  The unframed one is my nephew Ollie with his children's BAFTA.  My mom and dad bought me the Laurel & Hardy figurines.




Lots to go at here. Recent purchases include Eric Hazan's The Invention of Paris, Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind, Irene Gammel's Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity, Guattari's The Anti-Oedipus Papers, Randall Collins's The Sociology of Philosophies, and The Rough Guide to Sex, which I bought thinking it was The Guide to Rough Sex. This bookcase above, incidentally, is two books deep.




This is supposed to be my bookcase of "next to reads" but there's an overflow on the adjoining case. I find myself picking from them at random for my train read, depending on how I feel that morning and how heavy the volume is. Heavy books get read at home. The big yellow volumes stacked horizontally are the last hard-copy editions of Readers' Guide Abstracts, before we went virtual. They're nice to have because I can show visitors I'm a published editor. Recently bought books on this case are Stefan Collini's Common Reading, my most recent purchase; Bakunin, by Mark Leier; Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine; and Communication Power, by Manuel Castells. There are also two unread biographies of Engels I'm looking forward to.



This is the overflow bookcase of "next to reads." These are mostly books bought with the best of intentions, but when I actually consider the prospect of reading them, I manage to find something less worthy but more attractive. New purchases here usually have something to do with Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time program, which is why it features Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah, writings by and about Hazlitt, and the In Our Time volume itself. There's about eight Steven Aylett books on this case that I really should have a go at, but none of them look as much fun as Bigot Hall If you buy ANY books shown here, make it that one.




Yes, I've even got bookcases in the porch. This is the motherlode, containing some books that I've had with me for nigh on a decade. It's a kind of elephants' graveyard of unread books, the desperately worthy and intellectual stuff that I've promised myself I'll read but which become less attractive the closer I get to them. Some of them I've dipped into and put back, and I suspect they may never get read. Others are just sitting there until I've ploughed through the more urgent material, urgent being defined as more engaging rather than relevant. It isn't that I have ADHD so much as an overstimulating job that presents subjects that arouse my curiosity with such regularity that I cannot satisfy it before another subject arises. Highlights of this bookcase include Martha Nussbaum's Upheavals of Thought, Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Jonathan D. Spence's The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud, and Darconville's Cat, by Alexander Theroux. All fascinating in their own way. I imagine.



To finish on a defiant and optimistic note, two cases of books that I've read.  These are books either that I intend to hold onto—all my Sartre and Castoriadis books, for instance—or books that I haven't yet had a chance to pass on to Trish.  The most recently read books are in the case below, stacked horizontally.  This bookcase is also two books' deep.  The books I read on holiday, and which you'll find listed in the "My Library" app to the left of this page, I either left behind in Cyprus or passed on to Martin. I notice, looking at this picture, that there are even books on this final shelf that are there because I had nowhere else to put them and they still remain to be read. The Fernand Braudel trilogy, Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud, and Peter H√łeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. I shall probably wait for the DVDs to come out.



So that's the story. As to why nobody else on the C&S team blogs here . . . I'll let them tell you.

20 comments:

Martin said...

And don't forget a lifetime's holiday reading that you dump on me.

John said...

You'll have this year's read in a weekend, Mart. If you stay in.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Wonderful - book Pr0n.

Shleves, storage, reading. My favourites!

cakes said...

John, have tried clicking on the pictures but there appears to be neither music nor visuals. This is rubbish. Bring back Mart.

John said...

Hi Lisa--

That's interesting. It's my second-favourite kind. ;-)

Graeme said...

You may want to supplement Life Among The Pirates with this book.

Graeme said...

I'd skip the Barbara Ehrenreich books. Smile or Die (I'm guessing that's the British/Irish version of Bright-Sided) was poor. There are interesting bits in it, but she overextends her argument which kind of ruins the entire book. I mean, she's trying to make the point that a reliance on "positive thinking" was the reason for the economic collapse and that just doesn't work.

I see another Ehrenreich title on the shelf below that but can't make out what it is. If it's Nickel and Dimed (the only other book of her's I've read) it's also not really worth the effort. The substance of the book is this: it's impossible to get by on minimum wage in the United States. The rest of it is a lot of her whining about how she's too good for the sorts of jobs she was taking.

They're quick reads, at least. They made for okay night shift reading, but there are better books to spend your time with.

John said...

Hi Graeme--

Sixth photo down, third shelf down, right-hand end, two books to the right of Foul! Next to Pannekoek on Workers' Council. The spine's rather faded because I've had it for so long. Still unread. Just can't bring myself to take it on the train.

John said...

Hi again Graeme--

Thanks for that. Yes, Smile or Die is the same book. Ehrenreich usually gets decent reviews, although this one less than most. I was curious because some of its techniques are still used in counselling here and because I have vague recollections of an essay by Adorno in which he says there's nothing intrinsically wrong with positive thinking.

The other two books are Nickel and Dimed and Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Global Economy. I've only just bought them.

Martin said...

A blue and white umbrella? Heresy!

John said...

County Cavan, Mart.

Anonymous said...

What do you think the ratio of books bought to books read is? I wonder what mine is. Probably read less than a third of what I buy. Damn consumerism!

John said...

Probably something similar, Stuart. Not that I never intend to read the all, but some get pushed further and further down the backlog - usually fiction - as more interesting books appear.

At some point I shall have to go cold turkey and decide I have enough to be going on with. It'll bankrupt the Book Depository, mind you.

Anonymous said...

I've tried cold turkey, but it doesn't work. There's always *that* book, that one there, and I simply must read that right now, or at least buy it right now, otherwise I shall be utterly miserable and die ignorant...

John said...

I know what you mean. I've recently begun to experience a kind of post-coital tristesse after buying a book: Hit the purchase button, received confirmation of purchase, and thought to myself, "You've done it again. Goddammit."

Anonymous said...

What capitalist genius the Amazon one-click buy button is!

mikeovswinton said...

The Franco Venturi is excellent. Did you get that at that place in the North Laine in Brighton?

John said...

Hi Mike. Thanks. No, I got it downstairs in Hodges Figgis, I think. That's where they flog off all their remaindered books. Cost me next to nothing.

mikeovswinton said...

Yeah, I picked up in the place in Brighton and they must have had about twenty remaindered copies when I got mine a few years back. Got a remaindered copy of a cracking bio of Marshall McLuhan at the same time. Amazing what people don't read,isn't it?

John said...

Well I must confess I haven't read it myself yet, but I wanted to read up on Herzen. I wrote a novel about 20 years ago about Narodnaya Volya, so I was familiar with a lot of that period of Russian history already.

McLuhan never really interested me, but his bio would.