Today I stepped into the tsomet sfarim bookstore and bought two books. Now, obviously, I do not need these two – a novel in English and a book of poetry in Hebrew. I can’t even say when I’ll find time to read them. I have a shelf filled with two rows of books I have promised myself to read, and, now and then, by chance I happen upon the shelf and stare in wonder at this treasure I had forgotten that awaits me. But then, I can’t even tell you how many books I’m reading now.
It may be three, but probably more. The other day, again at tsomet sfarim, there was a sale on a hardcover edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Mandelbaum translation. How could I resist? It’s true I’ve tried several times previously to read the Commedia without success, and each time racked it up to a bad translation. This time, the opening stanzas seemed just right, and I knew I would be able to finish the magnum opus. So, here I am, somewhere in the fiery pits of the inferno.
On my shelf lies Gai Oni by Shulamit Lapid, a terrific historical novel in Hebrew that is, at least in Amazon, no longer available in English. I put Bambi (in Hebrew translation) aside and, yes, unfinished, for Gai Oni. Those were the three I counted previously. But what about books on Kindle?
I received a Kindle as a gift and promptly downloaded as many freebies as I could. I didn’t mind that in this way I was perhaps sentencing myself to living on the edge of the 20th century, since nearly all the freebies are well before 1900. I reread “As You Like It” and began Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which I had always wanted to read. The Life of Johnson has the remarkable characteristic of being both tedious and engaging, as Boswell’s a bit of a bore whereas Johnson is brilliant. Have I finished that? No. Nor have I finished Perrault’s fairy tales – the French really is too hard, although I prefer to pretend (as always) that at the turn of a bend in time, I’ll have mastered French, which, much against my pretensions, deteriorates yearly. And then there is Thomas Hoover’s excellent book on Zen.
So that makes six.
Oh, I left Twain’s autobiography a while ago. I’m not sure whether that still counts. There comes a point when you decide that you’re actually not going to return to the book that only a month before captivated you. But have I really made that decision?
The other day, I got an email from someone who offered English classics for free. His wife got a Kindle and had decided she could keep all the books she wanted on the Kindle and make extra room in the house with the books she removes. I cannot do that. I find I need the real thing and not just the virtual model. Reading in Kindle makes me appreciate hardcover books all the more. I want the heft and weight of them, the feel in my hands, that smell of fine paper. After a day or a week in Kindle, when a real, flesh and blood book falls into my hands, I feel as if I have discovered something new.
But then, I’ve barely made it into the 20th century.
Are there others out there like me?