June Stuff

I have never understood the attraction of obscenely expensive wristwatches. When I was leaving home to attend the university, my father gave me a very functional Timex watch. Back then all watches (most?) had to be wound each day. Later self-winding and eventually electric and digital watches became available. But no matter the features, a decent quality watch that would make sure you didn’t miss dinner or the first ten minutes of a popular movie, could still be purchased for only a few bucks.

True. That $19.95 Timex might not last too many years—the mechanism would run down, the wrist band discolor, and that skinny second hand might snap off—but in the event of a disaster you didn’t have to take the watch in for an expensive repair … you just had to buy a new one.

I once tried to calculate how many lifetimes it would require before it was cheaper to buy a Rolex than to just keep buying a new Timex every year or so. Of course, being retired I haven’t worn a wristwatch for twenty years now.

I’ve had a quirky relationship with books too.

Back when my Dad gave me that first Timex I had all of my belongings stashed into three orange boxes, one old valise, and a cardboard guitar case. Four years later when I packed up for graduate school in Missouri I had only added two boxes. Why so bleak? First, I was getting through university by working several less-than-academic jobs: raising rats, weeding gardens, shampooing carpets, ghosting term papers, ironing shirts. I was a sophomore before I gave in to an urge and spent a dime on an orange soda.

This also meant I sold back most of my school books and, being an English major, only retained original sources in my major.

Later on I discovered that I was schlepping books around the country, providing them with a comfy place to reside, heat, air conditioning, even maid service. Then I realized I might never need a specific book ever again and even if I did, it generally could be repurchased for far less money that the projected upkeep, so I stopped keeping books that I had already read.

Fifty years later I can only recall a dozen titles I might have had to repurchase. Nowadays I’m gradually replacing those ink and paper books with digital versions I can actually read. Still, with my habits of not saving books and efforts to digitize my library, I’ve still got several hundred enticing titles lining the bookshelves in my library … and not a lot of time to read them.

Remember George Carlin … books are stuff too.

But this month I intend to engage my little gray cells with at least twenty new titles selected from my digital lists and one or two from my library shelves.

  1. The Caretaker — A. X. Ahmad
  2. Indian Killer — Sherman Alexie
  3. Shirley — Charlotte Brontë
  4. America Is Not the Heart — Elaine Castillo
  5. The Public Burning — Robert Coover
  6. A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself — Peter Ho Davies
  7. A Pair of Blue Eyes — Thomas Hardy
  8. The Line of Beauty — Alan Hollinghurst
  9. Boyhood Island: My Struggle Book 3 — Karl Ove Knausgârd
  10. Readopolis — Bertrand Laverdure
  11. The Year of the Comet — Sergei Lebedev
  12. The Betrothed: I Promessi Sposi — Alessandro Manzoni
  13. The Domino Boys — D. M. Mitchell
  14. The Last Rectangle and other Short Stories — Akram Najjar
  15. Under the Undala Trees — Chinelo Okparanta
  16. The Eighth Detective — Alex Pavesi
  17. The Belles of Bruges — Georges Rodenbach
  18. The Warden — Anthony Trollope
  19. Borne: A Novel — Jeff VanderMeer
  20. Pot-Bouille — Émile Zola

Assuming I complete this list with time to spare, I’ve been considering these titles to help fill in the time:

  • The Sleepwalkers — Hermann Broch
  • Demons — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Good Soldier Svejk — Jaroslav Hasek

3 thoughts on “June Stuff

  1. We had about 10 choices for books for my Eastern European Survey course in 1989, but my professor would only let me read Svejk, which was the longest book out of the selection by far. But I loved it so much it ultimately seemed very short. I hope you get a chance to read it (unless you already did and are reading it again).


  2. I found early on that I could either have bookshelves full of books that I wanted to read or bookshelves full of books that I had already read, but not both. I chose the former. Friends will look at my 4 bookcases of books and ask how many of those books have I read, and I’ll respond maybe 5.
    Until I started distance running, I would agree wholeheartedly with your watch views. Now I have to have a Garmin with GPS and stopwatch capabilities that can store run times, etc.


    1. Did your stopwatch cost $10,000? $300,00? (Patek Philippe Grand Complications 40.2mm Rose Gold Men’s Watch with Bracelet $341,830 USD .. and they take Paypal!)

      I know, more capabilities—better tools—come at a cost. I have an iPhone nowadays that completely replaces my wristwatch and puts my original Apple ][ to shame. I read many books on my iPhone but, as carefully as a research the brochures, I haven’t figured out how to read even one book on a Rolex.

      Side note: Although I do retain copies of certain non-fiction works like M. H. Abrams A Glossary of Literary Terms, there are actually several novels hiding on my shelves that have been previously read, some very well read. Without thinking too much, there is Joyce’s Ulysses (several different publications), Proust’s Recherche in French and English, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, at least six different versions of the Bible, Don Quijote in Spanish and English (several translations), several old thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, and complete editions of a few favorite poets: Keats, Roethke, Pope, Silverstein.

      It’s a bit of a cliché now but I keep a copy of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy close by to tempt me: I’m convinced that after I read Anatomy, I will die.


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