We are deranged bibliophiles. We have books in every room. We buy them at bookstores, we rescue discarded library books, we go to sales… Why don’t we open a bookstore?
We have too many books in our house, but can’t bear to discard them. What if 10 years from now we need to consult Herbs and Herb Lore of Colonial America, or The Easy Russian Phrase Book?
Here are five books I’ll probably never read and why I bought them.
1 Robert Harris’s Lustrum (the American edition is called Conspirata.) I yawned through Imperium, the first novel in Harris’ trilogy about Cicero, and yet I ordered the British edition of the second book, Lustrum, before it came out in the U.S. Why? Well, it was very well-reviewed, and I’m a fan of Cicero, so shouldn’t I want to read a novel about Cicero?
I’m not fond of historical novels, with the exception of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. After 35 pages of Lustrum, I gave up: I found the prose clumsy and the dialogue preposterous.
“Are you a patriot, Sansa?” asked Cicero the moment I showed him in.
“I like to think I am, Consul,” replied Sanga cautiously. “Why?”
“Because I wish you to play a vital part in the defense of our beloved country.”
Yikes! But just in case, it must stay on the shelf. I might want to read a novel about Cicero someday.
2 Robin Morgan’s Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist. Morgan is a poet, a feminist activist, and political theorist. Going Too Far, published in 1978, often does go too far: this collection of letters, essays and articles, which originally appeared in Ms., The New York Times, Rat, underground newspapers, and anthologies, is painfully evocative of the political/personal struggles of the ’70s. I bought this book because I wanted to understand the politics of the Women’s Movement of the ’70s, which, for better or worse, shaped my youth. Morgan is fascinating but the radical language is sometimes harrowing and angry: language changes very fast, and sometimes the jargon is embarrassing, though I was used to this style in underground newspapers in those days.
Morgan is brilliant, though, and a much better writer than many of her feminist peers. (I could barely read Shulamith Firestone the first time and cannot read her at all now.) And I am fascinated by Morgan’s much-anthologized essay, “Goodbye to All That,” in which she chronicles her experience with a group of women taking over an issue of Rat, a male-written newspaper. She admits Rat has always tried to be “a really radical cum life-style paper.” But at the same time
It’s the liberal co-optative masks on the face of sexist hate and fear, worn by real nice guys we all know and like, right? We have met the enemy and he’s our friend. And dangerous. “What the hell, let the chicks do an issue; maybe it’ll satisfy ’em for a while, it’s a good controversy, and it’ll maybe sell papers”–runs an overheard conversation that I’m sure took place at some point last week.
Yes, I know what she means. The language has changed, but things have changed very little for women (think politics–no, don’t, it will depress you).
Who can live on this painful level of consciousness for long? Though I may not read Going Too Far cover-to-cover, I will certainly keep it.
3 Michael Crummey’s Galore. I want to read more Canadian literature. Galore won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book and the Canadian Authors’ Association Literary Award. It also got a spectacular review somewhere–I no longer remember where I read about it.
But honestly? It is not my kind of thing. A whale is beached in a Canadian coastal town in the 18th century, and a live man is found inside it: he’s a kind of Jonah. I’d discard it, but my husband thought he might want to read it. So it is on the shelf…
4 Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott: Absent in the Spring and Other Novels. I bought this hefty volume because I love Agatha Christie. She wrote romances under the name of Mary Westmacott. Has anyone read these? I keep this book around just in case I’ve exhausted Christie. I don’t like romances, alas.
5 Dorothy Dunnett’s The House of Niccolo series. I bought these at a library sale on 50-cent day. Why? Well, everyone has told me Dunnett’s Lymond series is brilliant, and though this is not the Lymond series, I couldn’t let them be pulped. But they do take up a lot of space, so eventually I’ll give them up. I’m giving myself a year to read at least a few chapters in one of them.
Have you, too, bought books that you will not read? Or is this just my thing?