It's kind of ironic I'm a writer -- and that I own more books than anyone I know (about 5000 volumes) -- because I'm also the world's slowest reader. A long bout of unemployment didn't help. You'd think it would be the perfect opportunity to pursue my literary career, but I was too worried to write much -- or read -- for many months. Over the course of one year I started in on five novels -- and I gave up on all of them halfway through. There didn't seem much point, and besides, how could I waste time on something as frivolous as reading when I needed to find a job?. The next year I started five more novels that I never finished, though I did eventually read (and finish) other books.
I recently joined Goodreads. Goodreads asks you to list up to 20 books when you join and rate them with their "five-star" system. Writing an actual review is optional. I listed 20 of my favorite books, but the list seemed rather empty with just titles and stars, so I decided to provide reviews.
For most of them, I realized, I couldn't even give a short synopsis of the plots. I, who usually memorized every detail of anything I read in case I wrote a sequel, had forgotten the plots of my favorite novels. My worry had not only stunned my ability to concentrate on books, it had eroded even my memories of already-finished books. That was it! I have a need to read!
I started today. What to start with, out of 5000 books (and 1200-plus magazines, 1200-plus comic books, and hundreds of articles, Xerox copies, pamphlets, etc.)? As we're approaching Christmas, I decided on "A Christmas Carol."
I can't tell you how much better I feel after reading just the introduction and the first few pages of "Stave One." Aside from being a good-natured and optimistic narrative to begin with, "Carol" has reminded me what magic can be performed with the proper words, like the description of Ebenezer Scrooge, only a few paragraphs in:
"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas."
Now it's time to read more of this ghost story for Christmas. Then on to a few of the other 4,999 volumes on my groaning shelves.
"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"