Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dreams, futile and vain

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Okay–here was an interesting article by Christopher Schoppa in the Washington Post.

Avid readers know all too well how easy it is to acquire books — it’s the letting go that’s the difficult part. … During the past 20 years, in which books have played a significant role in both my personal and professional lives, I’ve certainly had my fair share of them (and some might say several others’ shares) in my library. Many were read and saved for posterity, others eventually, but still reluctantly, sent back out into the world.

But there is also a category of titles that I’ve clung to for years, as they survived numerous purges, frequent library donations and countless changes of residence. I’ve yet to read them, but am absolutely certain I will. And should. When, I’m not sure, as I’m constantly distracted by the recent, just published and soon to be published works.

So, the question is his: “What tomes are waiting patiently on your shelves?

What characterizes those books that hang around and have even, in some cases, moved from place to place with me but aren't literally on the to-be-read list, is fantasy, sentimentality, or obedience. That is, I have some vision of myself reading them or being well read enough to have read them (fantasy), I keep them because they were part of my library or my grandparents' library and I can't part with them (sentimentality), or The Ragazzo won't let me throw them out because he thinks that he is going to read them or that they will be good 'guest room books,' if we ever have a guest room (his fantasy or sentimentality, my obedience).

In the third category are numerous books from the days when the Ragazzo did freelance editing and proofreading for a publishing company, and there is this series called A History of Private Life. I originally bought the volumes imagining they would be good research resources for plays and operas I was directing. I rarely used them and still have three volumes, The Rennaisance, Pagan Rome and Byzantium, and the Medieval world. I guess my fantasy of having read those has been transferred to The Ragazzo because I am no longer deluding myself on that score. In the second category are a number of books from my grandparents in German, which I don't read fluently, mostly poetry, and some original copies of All Quiet on the Western Front, The Golem, and some of Thomas Mann's novels. Others are in English, like a complete set of Andre Gide's diaries.

Then there is that first category, which the majority of books-in-waiting occupy. Take Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (please! take it!). I have tried valiantly. I have vainly imagined myself as being the person who has read it, but I never will. The same with The Crisis of Reason - European Thought, 1848 to 1914. I want to have read it, I bought it because of my obsession with the modernist period - let's say 1899 - 1920 - I figured it would be good to think about what preceeded it. It hasn't happened. Even now I look at it and think - this looks interesting! I should read it. I have a number of books on the modernist period which are well read, but others languish on the shelves - a book on Wittgenstein's Vienna, another on the Bauhaus movement, a history of fin-de siecle Vienna, and another on Expressionism in Twentieth Century Music. I have a number of books on the history of Saint Petersburg (Russia, not Florida). I haven't read those either. And I try to read Orlando Figge's cultural history of Russia called Natasha's Dance annually, but it has yet to capture my interest for more than 100 pages. Maybe when I retire. There are a bunch of books of source material for future imagined theatre or opera projects like, Visionaries about Marian visionaries (visions of the virgin Mary) - I had a whole plot sketched out that I thought would make a good opera. There is another show I had envisioned based on Aramis or The Love of Technology, a book about a guided-transportation system once designed for Paris that has never been realized. It combines the idea of an electrically powered subway system with the individual flexibility of the car and was among the technological fantasies envisioned to reduce our reliance on gas powered vehicles for individuals. I had a show idea about abandoned inventions and I guess I hang on to the book as a few poor sods probably hang on to the notion that some day the guided transportation idea might be revived. What romantics we are.


Anonymous said...

What a variety!!

I keep thinking "some day" I will get to some of mine. I probably should purposely take them out to read some time.

SmilingSally said...

Great post. You seem to have many more than I do, and I though I had a bunch!

Beth F said...

Oh my, The Private Life books! I'd forgotten about them. I, too, acquired many of them. They sounded so interesting. They, too, are somewhere in this house on some shelf waiting to be read.

And I have Wittgenstein's Vienna here, also unread. An old boyfriend gave it to me sometime in the mid-1970s. I'm not sure I ever even opened it.

Anonymous said...

The Man Without Qualities *sigh* I have been trying but the whole experience is catastrophic! I cannot seem to have found the perfect mood (and a comfortable chair) for it!

Ted said...

BH - Go ahead! Take them out. It won't work.

SS - Not necessarily the best contest to win!

BF - You're the first person I've ever encountered who has even heard of the Private Life series.

Matt - I know. It's all about the chair, isn't it?

Unknown said...

I actually read most of the first volume of The History of Private Life. There are a collection of articles by various scholars as I remeber so you can easily skip around if you don't like a particular chapter.

I did own book two for many years, but never read any of it.

It's just the sort of thing that would make an excellent series for public television.

Anonymous said...

For my European literature class (which i took over from a sick colleague who has to take sabbatical), I decided to cut short Remembrance of Things from the Past. That's another volume that has gathered dust!