Thursday, February 23, 2012

Like you need another book

"I leaf through one book, now another," wrote Montaigne, "without order and without plan, by disconnected fragments." Yet as his biographer notes, "he took up books as if they were people and welcomed them into his family."
   I treat books in both these ways, and notice - sometimes thanks to the play of the shelf elf - that in hopping from one to another what may at first appear to be "disconnected fragments" weave a rich tapestry of meaning. One of the books I am leafing through now is Sarah Bakewell's How to Live, or, a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. Very clever to approach the great essayist not in a continuous narrative but in a score of themed biographical essays. I think he would approve.
    I confess that book-hopping doesn't work so well when it comes to reading novels. Most of them ask to be read one page after another; I find that it's easy to lose the thread and scramble the characters if I leave a novel for too long to pursue other bookish temptations. So I generally have no more than three novels on the burner at once. Right now these are Chuck Palahniuk's
 Fight Club (on my list because of a recent dream), Jonathan Carroll's The Ghost in Love (picked because I wanted to see where he went after Bones of the Moon, an interesting account of a woman who travels to a dream world that begins to spill over into her regular life) and Aldous Huxley's last novel Island in which, in vivid contrast to Brave New World, he builds a utopia (albeit a threatened one), rather than a dystopia, on an island reminiscent of Bali.
    Nonfiction? I am hopping between the Montaigne book, Betty de Shong Meador's translations of the temple hymns of Enheduanna (Princess, Priestess, Poet), Trevor Hamilton's recent scholarly biography of F.W.H. Myers, the great Victorian ghost-hunter (Immortal Longings), David Abram’s Becoming Animal: An Earthy Cosmology,  Kathleen Raine's
 The Inner Journey of the Poet, Max Freedom Long’s quirky but wonderful The Secret Science Behind Miracles (revisited in preparation for my Hawaiian adventure next week), Mitch Horowitz's entertaining and eye-opening history of Occult America, the latest issues of Poets & Writers and History and Anthropology and...I'll leave it there, without mentioning the tall stacks related to current research, especially into Goddess traditions, Paleolithic cave art and W.B.Yeats' poetic and mythic quest for reality.
    More than once, a mailman or a UPS carrier has met me at my door with a fresh stack of books that I ordered online and quipped, "Like you need another book." To which the only answer is: Yes, I always do. I am not a Kindle person, and not much of a library person either, since I need my books where I can find them at 4:00 a.m. I buy a lot of books online, but my first call is always to my favorite independents, especially a wonderful used bookshop that is just down the street. This is a dangerous situation, since the stock of that bookshop is constantly migrating to my house. I make the newcomers welcome; they are family, even if - in such an enormous family - I can give them only a few minutes at a time.


Barbara Butler McCoy said...

Ohhh this makes me chuckle! I stood in the bookstore yesterday arguing with myself over whether to buy a new release by an author I've read and enjoyed in the past: "Like you need another book," "You should finish some of the fiction you brought home from the library before you start this," yada, yada, yada. Whenever we move the movers tease me about the boxes and boxes and boxes of books. A woman once asked why I buy books since I can just get them from the library. I was stunned.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

How could I resist commenting on this post?

Even though I am a library person -by trade and inclination- that hasn't stopped me from amassing my own personal library as well. From used shops, independents, and online retailers.

What am I reading now? Nonfiction: For some reason I couldn't find Virginia Moore's "The Unicorn" in the library catalog, but when I went to find a title of Yeat's criticism for a patron, I saw five copies on a nearby sh-elf. Just finished Andre Shiffrin's memoir "The Business of Books". "Spies, Scoundrels & Rogues of the Ohio Frontier" sits on my desk, by Gary S. Williams, for some villainous inspiration for my own...

Fiction. Murakami's "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" involves, as a strong thread, Unicorn skulls and a character who is a Dreamreader. Might there be a connection to the book about Yeats? I took a break from that last night after my own writing and read three short stories from Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Tales of Pain and Wonder". She is an incredible writer of place and evokes the dark psychic undercurrents of the South in a way that left me shivering before going to sleep.

Worldbridger said...

You might like to balance the Max Freedom Long book with:

The Bowl of Light: Ancestral Wisdom from a Hawaiian Shaman by Henry Barnard Wesselman

Robert Moss said...

Did you notice there is a quote from me on the back of "Bowl of Light"?

Robert Moss said...

Barbara - I have never regretted purchasing a book, even when I have found later that I already owned a copy (in which case one of them goes to a friend). I have often regretted NOT purchasing a book, especially when it is a rare or unexpected find in a used bookstore.

Robert Moss said...

Justin - Five copies of "The Unicorn"? In a Cincinnati library? Someone there must have had a passion for Yeats and an eye for the right sources, because Virginia Moore's book - though little-known and hard to find - is quite indispensable to our understanding of how Yeats approached the hidden reality.

Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

I well recognize the reading multi-books syndrome. Would that we Did have eyes in the back of our heads...we could double the input~