Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

I recently finished reading David Foster Wallace’s first novel, “The Broom of the System.”  Great book.  But then I found myself in a quandary as to what I should read next.  This happens almost every time I finish a book.  Although I have declared this to be the year of reading all of DFW’s works, I didn’t feel quite ready yet for Infinite Jest, which has been sitting in my library for quite some time now, taunting me, double-dog daring me to crack it open, then snickering as I slink out of my office, defeated once again.  Besides, like I told it, I wanted to read his works in chronological order, and I didn’t as yet have a copy of “The Girl with Curious Hair."  So there, IJ!! 

But, so, what to read? 
I had several motivating factors to consider.  One is the need to start whittling down the size of my library.  Concentrating it into what I consider a core collection.  I have quite a few books I own which I consider “one and done.”  Once I read them, into the box destined for taking to Half Price Books to sell.  But I keep making it harder to make any headway in this endeavor by continuing to buy more books!  It’s a sickness, I know. 
In addition, there are some books I want to read that have other books as prerequisites.  So, knowing that, by picking one of these books, I've just committed myself to two or more!  I don't know why this bothers me, but it does.  Take for example, Gilbert Sorrentino’s “Mulligan Stew.”  I very much want to read it, but don’t feel comfortable doing so before reading Flann O’Brien’s “At Swim-Two-Birds,” which Mulligan Stew is based on.  I had tried reading At Swim-Two-Birds a while back, but for some reason, ended up putting it down.  I can’t recall why, as I was enjoying it. More than likely because there's so much Irish mythology in there, of which I am woefully ignorant, so I probably figured I needed to bone up on that before tackling it.
But anyhow, as I was saying, I was having a hard time deciding on my next book.  I stood in my office, perusing my overloaded, sagging, imitation oak, Ikea bookcases, picking up one book, only to put it back in favor of another.  This went on for quite a while, and was starting to drive me a little crazy.  
I finally, don’t ask me how, decided on Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News.”  Which was good and bad.   

Bad because I just bought the darn thing a few days ago at my library’s book store.  All of the other unread books that I've had for years must’ve been really pissed off, seeing this newcomer which barely made it on the shelves, get picked before them.  I could almost hear the shouts of protestation.
Good because I’m having a tremendously fun time reading it, as it’s a wonderfully well-written book (although I hear the movie they made from it stinks—too bad.) I had no idea what to expect of it, as I hadn’t read much about it, except that it garnered her a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 and an National Book Award in 1993 (Gaddis got an NB in 94 for “A Frolic of His Own”—just thought I’d throw that in there (and no, I haven’t read that yet, either…I know, I know...))
I’ve tried making my reading decisions easier by coming up with a reading plan, but it never works.  I’ve found that I really enjoy coming up with reading plans, but when it comes time to actually following them, ...well, I never do.
So, how do you decide on what to read next?  I would love to hear!


  1. Sounds like we have a similar process. Books on certain shelves (the ones near the bed, the ones above the desk) are prime locations. Those shelves tend to be the home of recently acquired books ("shiny new pennies") or books rescued from other shelves by a sudden interest, mention by someone else, some other random factor. BUT, that doesn't mean they aren't waging battle in the prime shelving areas. Some days, I come home, and a couple books have fallen on the floor by the bed, some say it was someone cleaning or using the phone knocking them off, but, I know, it's the damn Melville, always pushing everyone else out of the way.

  2. Ha-ha! That darn whale, what a big bully!

  3. I read Mulligan Stew w/out having read the O'Brien. At the time I read it, I did not know it was based on At Swim Two Birds, I just thought it was a weird trip.

    How'd you end up liking The Broom? I've still not read all of the stories in Girl w/Curious Hair myself. When you're ready for IJ, you let me know please, as I'm always willing to put down whatever inferior book I'm reading to pick that superior beast up.

    Not a planner either. I do a lot of staring and meditation upon book spines. A lot of pulling the book off the shelf and staring at the cover, reading blurbs, studying the jacket sleeves, then putting the book back on the shelf and pulling the one next to it off the shelf and staring at its cover, et cetera.... Eventually, some mysterious vibe says, aha! That's the one!

    This year, though, I do have a bit of a plan, reading Steve Erickson's novels from first to last one right after the other.