Besides Tablet & Pen
and Just Kids
, here are some books I’ve read in the last month or so: Foreign Bodies
by Cynthia Ozick, Life
by Keith Richards, Mary Ann in Autumn
by Armistead Maupin, Conversations with Myself
by Nelson Mandela, Great House
by Nicole Krauss, By Nightfall
by Michael Cunningham, Nemesis
by Philip Roth, In His Own Write and a Spaniard in the Works
by John Lennon, The Silent Season of a Hero
by Gay Talese, Room
by Emma Donoghue, Full Dark, No Stars
by Stephen King, A Week at the Airport
by Alain de Botton.
All of them were read for work, but almost all of them were books I wanted to read anyway, which raises some interesting questions, I suppose, about what the nature of work is. There are times — 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, say, when I’m reading on the couch with a cup of coffee and the dog at my feet — when I half-expect the work police to kick down the door and drag me away... but then, that’s also how I felt when I was spending more time in an office, wasting time on the computer, checking Facebook and the latest baseball scores.
Perhaps it all gets back to that question of engagement, of what we want (or are lucky enough) to spend our time doing, the meaning we bestow on our lives. Why do I read? I ask again. To get lost in it, to feel that tickle of anticipation and excitement that comes from the direct connection to another human mind.
For me, of course, this gets tangled up with what I do for a living — reviewing books. The last time I read a book for pleasure (a strange designation, don’t you think, since reading is both work and pleasure, no matter who you do it for) was over the summer, when I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five for the first time in many years. I was in the house where I had first read the novel as a teenager, and there was something about that layering, that sense of what had changed and what had not (in the house, in my reading, in myself) that seemed to reverberate, if not in a way I could have imagined when I began. As it turns out, I wrote about that also, which suggests how blurry the line between work and pleasure really is. What does it mean when you turn the thing you love into your vocation? What happens when your passion becomes your job?
In some sense, this was a factor in the difficulties that inspired me to write The Lost Art of Reading — both the essay and the book. If you read all day to make a living, how do you prevent it from becoming a chore? You find yourself distracted, pulling away, as we all do from the tasks that are required of us, looking for a bit of respite in the noise.
And yet, the noise is just a lot of sound and fury, smoke and mirrors, sturm und drang.