Friday, June 10, 2011

Question for my fellow book lovers

I know I said "The Magicians" is up next - & it is! - but I just had a book-thought I wanted to share. Three of my favorite old authors stand out in that I own many of their books: Thomas Hardy, Walker Percy, & J. M. Barrie, but you know, I haven't read many of their books.

I have a whole shelf devoted to Thomas Hardy, including two particularly old, beautiful editions of "The Woodlanders" & "The Return of the Native," but I have only read "Jude the Obscure," "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," about half of "A Pair of Blue Eyes," & bits of "The Mayor of Casterbridge" & "Far from the Madding Crowd." I have all of Walker Percy's novels & some of his nonfiction works, but I have only read "The Moviegoer," "The Last Gentleman," & part of "The Second Coming." I own a good many of J. M. Barrie's novels & plays, but I have only read "Peter & Wendy," "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens," "The Little White Bird," & about half of "The Greenwood Hat."

These guys are strange to me because I adore them, but I am hesitant to get through their books. Not only have I not read many of their works, but they are some of the only authors whose books I've stopped reading partway through. I hate to do that! I never do that! So why does it happen with these guys? How do I get halfway through a brilliant book of Barrie's essays & stop?

While the best books are those that get better with every reread, there is only one first reading of a book. I will never again be able to cry for Jude like I did - late at night, summertime, in bed, ninth grade - when he died, the summertime Rememberance Day music flowing in through his open window, alone except for his beloved books.

I will never again be able to reach the end of Will Barrett's journey - in my college apartment, the dwindling evening sun coming in through the window - in a fury of curiosity only to find that I was left hanging, & then to sit & stew over what might've happened after he and Sutter pulled away in the Edsel, kicking up a cloud of dust, while the room darkened around me.

& I'll never again cry steady, unexplainable tears - in the middle of the children's department of the Hoover Library while I ran the summer reading tent, trying so hard not to weep openly - when Peter forgot, when the Lost Boys became businessmen, when Wendy couldn't fly anymore. (Actually I will always & forever weep through the entirety of "Peter & Wendy," just not as uncontrollably as the first time.)

Hardy, Percy, Barrie, authors I hold so close to my heart, they're all dead. I know their fingers will no longer clack away at a typewriter or put pen to paper, so this is all I've got. The six Walker Percy novels sitting dusty & unread on my shelf? Those are the only Percy novels I'll ever read. So why would I devour them when I can parcel them out over a lifetime, or at least the next ten years or so?

I suppose my question is - Am I alone in this? Is there something weird about getting a thrill from knowing that I still have shelves full of unread books by my favorite authors? At some point in my life, that'll no longer be the case. It's like getting a letter from an old friend, which is better: actually reading the letter, or holding the unopened envelope in your hand, like a wrapped present? The gratification or the anticipation?

For me, knowing I still have more of Will Barrett's story to unravel, more of Barrie's psyche to probe, more fabulous melodrama from Hardy, is worth dragging out.

Just a thought for your Friday. Happy reading!


1 comment:

  1. I think I own copies of all of Faulkner's books by now, but have yet to read "A Fable," "Mosquitoes," or "The Reivers." Some of that is because they're not well-regarded relative to the rest of his work, but a lot of it is, as you say, just the thrill of having more to read.