Monday, August 27, 2007

NPR - Reading Books

I have a small library. I don't collect books per se, but collect books on specific subjects, and even then never more than a few to get a broad perspective on a subject. There are some exceptions for subjects where books aren't common and/or not commonly available, like those specifically on Dysthymia (all of four professional technical ones). In short, my library is a three bookcase set about 12 feet long and about 8 feet high.

My rule on books is that any new books must fit into the existing bookcase. I don't add bookcases or stack books around the place. I have about a dozen boxes of books in storage right now ready to donate or sell as they were read, not relevant anymore, not of interest anymore, or simply boring. I normally collect 6-8 boxes before donating them, but now I have more than I care to even haul somewhere someday. For now anyway.

My point? Well, I'm mostly a researcher reader, from my graduate school days. While a buy a fair number of books, I don't read many books cover to cover, and mostly end up reading about a quarter to half way into a book before losing interest or finding new interests. I always browse several books stores once or twice a week, because I like to get an idea of all the books currently on the "market" - remember books aren't about you reading them but buying them.

I also like to listen occasionally to writer and reviewer - like reading the book review section in the New York Times Every Sunday, and especially Seattle's own Nancy Pearl. Well, the other day she commented that she only completely reads about one book in twelve she starts. And the other eleven get dropped into the ether of never to be read again.

Now that was enlightening because I always thought book reviewers and/or critics actually read a lot of books, and I felt guity for my low rate of completion. Now I don't feel so bad about putting a book down as either bad, boring or stupid, or just something that doesn't interest me right now, as many books get put on a shelf of on-going where I will return now and then to read another chapter.

Anyway, my favorite book of all time is Clarence Glacken's book, Traces on the Rhodian Shore. He was a Professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley for much of his career. I attended California State University, Sacramento in the early-mid 1970's where many of the faculty had worked or met him throughout their careers.

The irony of his career is that while there was the pressure in academia to publish, he only wrote and published this one book. He spent his entire academic career researching and writing it, but instead of relying on translations of books or texts to use in his book, he learned the original language and traveled around the world to read the original books and texts. He was dedicated to providing his own understanding and interpretation to the material than use others'.

What more can you say for the value of dedication and devotion? Well, it's a book that will take my lifetime to read, as you can only read a few pages to some of a chapter before I am overwhelmed with the words and ideas. But that not the issue to me, but simply the consistent effort to read it. It's one book I may put down, but guarranteed to pick up soon.

Any other books? Well, a set. In the 1970's I read the normal books environmentalist of the19th century naturalists, but I had the habit of wanting to read the complete works of writers. On the side I read the complete works of Sherlock Holme, but I read the complete writing of Thoreau and others, not just their major book(s). To that end, Linda, my then wife, bought me the complete works of John Burroughs in a 1924 edition set.

This is a really cool set of books. It was printed as the Wake Robin Edition from Wm. H. Wise and Company purchased by a collector in Peckskill, NY (inside jacket sticker). I don't know how it got to a Sacramento used bookstore but I envied it for a long time before Linda secretly bought it as a college graduation present. I've read about a dozen of the twenty three volumes. Some are interesting and some mundane, but overall it's worth the time to get the flavor of the 19th century naturalists.

And so in the end, I don't feel so bad about reading, as long as the interest is always there.

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