ON NOT KEEPING A TO-READ LIST
I really, honestly, actually don’t have, can’t keep and don’t make reading lists. Yes, I do have a pile and shelves of unread books, but in keeping with the chaotic pulse that is life, I decided to just leave it at that. This has made me buy books out of impulse, thinking and dreaming of that long vacation where I’ll feel the urge to open my first Kurt Voneggut, or find the leisure to finish all my Murakamis. It never happens. No long vacation and the mood have not yet arisen. What happens is a sudden burst of literary longing for books that are as rare as the mayfly bordering on the extinct. Books that are not on my shelf, that are hundreds of bucks away, oceans even, if not already extinct.
I am vulnerable to recommendations. Recently, after much fretting over the finale of the tv adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel (of which I haven’t written my self imposed review of the last two episodes yet), I find myself looking for books of the same mood and was delighted to be pointed to the direction of two obscure literary masterpieces. Hope Mirrless’ Lud-in-the-Mist and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy. The first is long out of circulation in Philippine book stores (yes, I checked the major ones). The latter, suffers the same injustice. I foresee months ahead where all I do is feel incomplete, my shelf despite their fullness, feeling empty. I also foresee myself browsing Amazon or Book Depository or Abe Books for days, hesitating to order books under pain of tax and unfair import fees. I’m already on that stage. Days from now, I’ll be giving in. To hell with sound financial decisions! I need to feel in my breast the sighs of the castle Gormenghast, or the swift fancy wind of Lud.
These feelings are not entirely new. This happened before when I let myself go into the depth of comic timing that was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld after I read Good Omens which I read after I got depressed with Michael Moorcock’s Elric Saga. And before that I was wandering book isles, not knowing where to go next? Scifi and Fantasy section, Young Adult section, the General Fiction section? Years ago I was immersed in Middle Earth, scouring for Children of Hurin, The Silmarillion, even Tolkien’s letters and rereading the Lord of The Rings a couple of times. Before that was a barren wasteland of books read just because they are lying around. To be a reader, you must know yourself first and ask yourself honest questions about what kind of books really makes you tick.
As I look back at the online book journal (that was my Instagram account) I see my journey. Each book a stepping stone, each book a sign post for the next adventure- mystery-absurdity. This journey must be taken leisurely no matter how short life is. No matter how many good books there are in the world. You cannot have them all yet, and you might as well give up the ambition of reading them all. But to fully appreciate the imagination that goes with each and every book, it must be taken one step at a time, one obsession for a period of years, months, or even just days.
I have met people who consider reading books as a race or a competition. Where is the pleasure in that? When you don’t allow yourself to grieve for the ending of a book or a series? When you never feel the agony of waiting for a book to arrive at the post? When you don’t feel the quickening of the pulse as you read the first words of a book you know you’re going to fall in love with? These things happen mysteriously. There is no pattern, no map to follow, certainly no list could be this receptive to fancy. The future is uncertain. You’ll never know where the books will take you next. To a dystopian future? To an imaginary past? It’s simple. Reading is a journey without a destination, because it is always here, one page at a time.