If such a thing as reincarnation exists, I have to wonder if I’m a generation-filtered reboot of Pliny the Elder.
It seems Pliny the Elder might now be known more as a microbrew produced in Santa Rosa, Calif., though they at least give the man a good mini-profile in their description of the beer. Pliny was an ancient Roman scholar best known for a) an encyclopedic work called Naturalis Historia and b) his death in the Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD.
I did a report on Pliny for a middle school Latin class, and remember that he constantly had his nose in a book. If he was eating or otherwise occupied, he had someone read to him. He was also keen on observing the world around him, so much so that he left the safety of his home to check out the volcanic eruption up close and died amid the poisonous fumes.
Though I sometimes exhibit similar if less fatal lapses in good judgment, I hope the better comparison is that I’m also a voracious bookworm. Currently I’m in the midst of a months-old slog through both parts of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, about a quarter of the way through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and taking weekend bites at the long pieces of New Yorker writer St. Clair McKelway compiled in Reporting at Wit’s End. As soon as I hit the back cover of one of these, there are a few choices in my bookcase ready to step in.
One of the things most helpful to my book selections (aside from the Book Barn in Niantic, the used bookshelves at , and the stacks at the ) is a nice application on Facebook. Amid all the bells and whistles and Farmvilles that started showing up on the site, I discovered something called BookTracker. Quite simply, it allows you to post updates on what you’re reading, with the most useful feature allowing you to keep a list of books you want to read. Titles that may have slipped my mind are now safely stored here.
So scattered periodically throughout my updates are thumbnail pictures of my latest read with the simple inscription, “Dirk started reading a book” or “Dirk finished reading a book.” Occasionally, I’ll get a comment by another fan of a particular work. One friend in the area, Rita Rivera-Riemer, said she was jealous of the seeming frequency of finished titles (currently at 169 since I started keeping track in early 2007), and every now and then expressed her tongue-in-cheek frustration. With the note that I had finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s entrancing, Pulitzer Prize winning tome Team of Rivals, she simply replied, “Oh just…whatever.”
At the very least, Rita said she had been inspired to ramp up her own recreational reading as a result of the updates. She was still curious over how I managed to go through so many volumes. Some of it has to do with the kind of book I’m reading; it’s surprisingly easy to get through 50 pages of Reporting at Wit’s End in a sitting, while I often consider eight of Don Quixote’s 900 pages enough for a day. There’s another very easy trick, though: teeth cleaning reading.
With my current reading lineup, I start each morning with Cosmos. During the toothpaste and mouthwash routine, I’ve got Sagan’s quintessential piece on the universe and our place in it in my left hand. In the evening, I repeat the process—lengthened a bit thanks to the extra step of flossing—with Don Quixote. Each process only takes a few minutes, but adds a few pages to what I’m able to get through each day. And those add up over time.
Stephen King, in On Writing (recently re-read), offered up just about everywhere as an ideal spot for a quick spot of reading: waiting in line, sitting in the doctor’s office, using the bathroom…King’s reading venues may be a little excessive at times. After all, he was struck by a van in 1999 while walking along the road, engrossed in a novel. Granted, the reckless driver had more to do with that accident than King’s attention to prose.
And maybe this is the Cosmos talking, but you should also never say that you don’t have time for reading; time keeps on going, and there’s an awful lot of it. And it’s never too much to spare a few minutes a day for a good read.