Strangely enough, reading books is something I have done dramatically less of since becoming a graduate student, and virtually none of since becoming a graduate student who works for a living. I’ve done more than my share of skimming, referencing, annotating, and problematizing, but reading is quite a different matter.
Reading is what you do for its own sake. Like other pleasurable activities, it is not especially productive, nor is it directed toward any particular goal. I miss reading in much the same way I miss making music or being near to someone who cares about me. I try not to think about how long it might be before I get to do it again.
The book meme, then.
1. Number of books I own
Approximately seven hundred. I now pay people to carry them when I move.
2. Last book I bought
I stopped buying books when my SSHRC grant ran out. I also stopped going to movies, buying records, and travelling. However, when I got my income tax refund last year I did buy Jonathan Sterne’s The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. I didn’t earn enough money to get a tax refund this year.
3. Last book I read
Brecht on Film and Radio, Bertolt Brecht/ed. Marc Silberman. One does not skim Brecht.
4. Five books that mean a lot to me
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
This is the first book I lost myself in, over and over again. I still have the copy I read as a child, which I’m very glad of.
Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje
A fictional account of the life of jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden. The book inspired me and two of my friends to call the author from a bar at two ‘o clock in the morning to invite him to speak to our alternative school lit class. To his enormous credit, he did.
The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
De Beauvoir’s 1949 treatise on gender. I read it for the first time when I was fourteen and the world looked instantly different than it had before.
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Greil Marcus
The book that made me and everyone else I know want to become a scholar of popular music. Marcus spoke at a conference I co-organized several years ago and we talked about writing over dinner at Philino’s. That was pretty cool.
Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
I first read Nightwood when I was seventeen and returned to it again last summer. I can’t imagine what sense the book made to me at seventeen; it made considerably more at thirty-two. I forgot much of it during the intervening years, but one passage stayed with me throughout: the one in which Nora waits for her lover, Robin, to come home.
When the time came that Nora was alone most of the night and part of the day, she suffered from the personality of the house, the punishment of those who collect their lives together. Unconsciously at first, she went about disturbing nothing; then she became aware that her soft and careful movements were the outcome of an unreasoning fear—if she disarranged anything Robin might become confused—might lose the sense of home.
Love becomes the deposit of the heart, analogous in all degrees to the ‘findings’ in a tomb. As in one will be charted the taken place of the body, the raiment, the utensils necessary to its other life, so in the heart of the lover will be traced, as an indelible shadow, that which he loves.
Yes, that makes all the sense in the world now.