Old Man Reading

images.jpgOne sure sign that a reader has reached old age is that he or she loses interest in new fiction. Seen it all. Been there, done that. It’s then that people nearly always do return to the books they loved when young, hoping for a breath of springtime as the autumn winds blow. And if they aren’t rereading “Treasure Island” or “The Secret Garden”? Then it’s likely to be the Bible, Plato’s dialogues or Montaigne’s essays because these inexhaustible classics address nothing less than the meaning of life, which really means, of course, the meaning of our own lives.

This is the concluding paragraph of Michael Dirda’s review of Vivian Gornick’s book: Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader in the Washington Post. The full article is interesting and I’m sure the referenced book warrants reading (or re-reading).

Do you agree?

Okay. I admit that I am an old man who needs a magnifying glass or digital magnification to read. And I read a lot. However, I never (almost) reread a book, specifically a work of fiction.

Oh, I recognize the value of rereading. But the idea of rereading a novel because it will be familiar and comforting in some way is not appetizing. I have reread books like Ulysses , Moby Dick, or Tristram Shandy numerous times, always with greater understanding and the joy which accompanies the advancement of knowledge, but definitely not because the author’s work gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Also, I have avoided the cliché of rereading the Bible for many reasons (“…  I don’t want to get into specifics”). However, I have read and studied the Bible at the university level, in several editions and variations. Remember: It’s all fiction.

download.jpgWhen my grandfather was old he retired to his bedroom every day for a nap or his favorite reading genre—Westerns—or a PCL Padres games on the radio, usually a simulcast unless the team was in their home stadium. Back then the period of rest was more restorative than it might be today: there was no air conditioning and Summer in San Diego could be brutal (do they still cover the windows with aluminum foil?).

But the key is that my grandfather opted for tales of the old west, not Plato or Montaigne.

In my old age, having enjoyed a wide variety of reading through the years, I have discovered the joys of hard-boiled detectives, detailed police procedurals, rocking-chair amateur sleuths, suspenseful spies, and locked rooms. I have had bouts of ignoring any novel that doesn’t include at least one murder and even a quick peek at the lists of genre fiction titles could fill my reading pool for years to come: definitely more than I have left.

But then the waning years remind me of all the Trollope and James and Vollmann I have yet to read. How can I waste my time reading two-fisted fiction and clever sleuthing when I haven’t read The Golden Bowl, or Argall, or The Portrait of a Lady?

And what about all those new novels being published everyday?

Every month I whip-up a reading list that will hopefully hit all my needs and urges. Many of the titles should be familiar, but I have heard from some followers that my reading pool is often an unknown garden of beckoning fiction (mixed metaphor?). For February I have selected the usual 20 titles, many of which I will read, and a few which I will just not get to. Perhaps you are tempted to add a couple of these books to your reading pile.

  1. The Poet X — Elizabeth Acevedo
  2. Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies — Ace Atkins
  3. Shamanspace — Steve Aylett
  4. The Monkey Link — Andrei Bitov
  5. Castle Rackrent — Maria Edgeworth
  6. Daniel Deronda — George Eliot
  7. The Mansion — William Faulkner
  8. The Mare — Mary Gaitskill
  9. The Heart of the Matter — Graham Greene
  10. Stories In the Worst Way — Gary Lutz
  11. Severance — Ling Ma
  12. Mother and Child — Carole Maso
  13. The Revisionists — Thomas Mullen
  14. House of Incest — Anais Nin
  15. Pamela — Samuel Richardson
  16. A Very Stable Genius — Philip Rucker and Carol Leonig
  17. The Moor’s Last Sigh — Salman Rushdie
  18. The Designated Mourner — Wallace Shawn
  19. Maigret’s Holiday — Georges Simenon
  20. The Debacle — Émile Zola


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