I just finished a book. Perhaps I should clarify: I do not mean that I have finished a book that I have written. I finished reading a book that someone else has written. I consider it a triumph nonetheless. While this may not register very high on the Triumph Meter employed by others, some of us need to celebrate our little victories however we can.
And the book I just finished was . . .
. . . well let’s come back to that in a minute.
I have always loved to read. As one who writes a bunch, this is probably not a revelation. I still have the entire set of Hardy Boys mystery books that I devoured as a kid. At least the entire set before they began re-writing them under the same titles. I am not so hung up on having the complete set that I will go and buy the newer versions. Knowing when to stop a collection is an important life skill.
As a teen I read scads of non-fiction – history and biography, mostly. I continued this streak through college, even though there was plenty of less enjoyable reading fror classwork. Edmund Morris’ lengthy bio of Teddy Roosevelt was a great read.
Law school put a bit of a crimp in my reading time and I will admit to taking more or less of a three year holiday from recreational reading. However, once out of school I re-started my page-turning ways.
I got a set of fifty hardbound, gilt-edged classics from one of the mail order outfits that sold such things in the ’80s. My mother suggested that we could go in on the set together, taking turns paying for the books as they were mailed every month or two. She never took custody of a single book. I eventually decided that this was her way of insuring that I had some suitably impressive bookshelves in my home. It worked. (I have never once stood in my living room with those books on display while someone asked “Ain’t ya got no class?”)
It was my opinion then (and remains so today) that “classics” become classics for a reason and that every good citizen of this thing we call western civilization should read as many of them as he can. I gave it a good start, reading things like Moby Dick and The Confessions of St. Augustine. Between the heavy duty stuff I would plow through something more fun, such as William Shirer’s seminal Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich or a series of Tom Clancy novels.
Back and forth I went, becoming a little bit more complete as a human being with each checked-off volume. I would have been a conversational asset at any upscale cocktail party, had I been the cocktail party-attending type. But then . . . life.
I got married, we had kids, and – well – many of you know how that goes. Those that do not, well, your day is coming. And if not, then I am so envious of all your free time. The life of a busy family man does not leave much room for idleness, and in truth, I do not regret the temporary loss of my reading time at all given what I received in return.
But one by one the kids left the nest and . . . I failed to pick up a book. OK, I have read one on rare occasion, often over the Christmas holiday. The thick bio I received as a gift from one of the kids on the life of Walter Chrysler was time well spent. But mostly, I did other things.
Some of those things involved writing, which I took up in earnest maybe about seven years ago. Every minute spent writing was a minute not spent reading (ok, not spent reading anything besides what I was working on). My output, first at Curbside Classic and now here, increased apace while my well-roundedness began to recede into the misty past.
Some men are married to ladies who love to read. Such men who are not devoted readers themselves can spend much time on the golf course or at sporting events while the Mrs. contentedly devours novel after novel. I, however, did not marry one of those. My Mrs. and I have this odd kind of married relationship where we actually like to spend time with one another. Strange, right? Reading, however, is not something that works well with that kind of program.
This reduced reading lifestyle has not, unfortunately, resulted in a reduced appetite for acquiring books. The little table next to my favorite reading chair has about five years worth of material (at my current pace) and this does not count the books I will undoubtedly receive as gifts – many of which I will have specifically asked for.
I have been trying, however, to wring some effeciencies out of my life and one of my little prizes to myself has been to squeeze a little reading time in here and there. I decided that I had better start with something light, and picked up a gift from this past Christmas. Or was it from the Christmas before . . . ?
One of my kids bought a used hardback copy of John Feinstein’s Season On The Brink, an inside look at Bob Knight and the 1985-86 Indiana University basketball team. It was a must-read when it came out – in the 1980s. But somehow, I had not read it. I will admit to being more of a sports fan now than I was then (although this a fairly puny boast), and worked my way through little by little.
And I am proud to report that I have finished it! It was a very good read, and taught me that I would have never made it on one of Knight’s basketball teams. Even if I had possessed any skills at basketball, I mean.
What next? I have picked up a collection of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. I found this in paperback at a used bookstore a few years ago and never opened it. It is one of those old Pocket Books which manages to get about three hundred pages into a little book about a half an inch thick.
Upon opening this edition (the back cover of which explains how to send copies to the servicemen fighting Hitler and Tojo) it became apparent that I may have been the first human to actually open this volume during its roughly seventy-five year life. The ancient paper, cheap and thin, is terribly delicate and tears at the slightest provocation. Worse, the print is devilishly small, taxing my bifocals something fierce.
I am happy to report steady progress and expect that in a few months I will be able to casually drop pithy Father Brown references in conversation. Although most everyone who would appreciate my sparkling quips will be in assisted living. Oh well.
The big question is what will come next? Do I pick something a little more daunting from the shelf? I will confess that about half of my series of classics remains virtually untouched by human hands. Or do I go back and finish some of the books I have started but have never resumed after an interruption. Another Chesterton book, a second volume to the Teddy Roosevelt biography and a book on cured meats are in this category.
Time will tell. But for now, I have to finish this post. Father Brown is waiting.
Photo credit: This expressive photograph is in the public domain and was found at the Flickr page of Many Wonderful Artists, to whom I extend my appreciation.