Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Worth Reading

The glib answer is, for the eclectic reader: Almost everything.

But that is glib. The truth is, the vast majority of what's available for reading is not worth the time or effort. This is nothing new; it's almost always been so, not excluding the lost Library of Alexandria, which probably contained a great deal of dry technical writing. Do you really want to read every issue of those magazines on the newstand? Not even magazines that I like to read, generally, like National Geographic, are brilliant every single issue.

Lately I've been overwhelmed with a great huge bloody list of Things To Do that have required all my time and attention, and prevented me from doing much creative work, much music, or much else, to be honest. But I still read. Even if it's just a few pages a day, as the first thing in the morning, as part of my necessary morning quiet time, that time I need in order to start the day properly, and ensure that it goes relatively well. Days I am forced by circumstances to miss my morning quiet time are noticeably more turbulent.

This contemporary scarcity is both curse and blessing. It means I'm not finding time for much new reading. It also means, however, that I once again to turn to books that are old friends, and re-read them. One gains a kind of solace by re-reading a familiar story or essay or book of poems. It's not nostalgia, although it could be; rather, it's the comfort of something familiar and well-loved.

We all have a short list of books that have kept us company our entire lives, that we return to again and again. Part of what I've been doing this past month or so has been closing down my parents' old house, now that they're gone, and moving into my own new home. There is a pile of books I didn't pack into boxes with all the rest, knowing that they would keep me company while everything else was stacked up and waiting to be organized and set into place.

When I travel, I do the same thing. There are a few books that always travel with me, one or two of which I have in ultra-small pocket-size editions for additional ease of carrying along. A copy of Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Interior in the Shambhala Pocket Classics edition lives in my travel bag. Lately a copy of Emily Dickinson's Poems in the same edition has also lived there.

What I'm re-reading, then, is what's worth reading and re-reading again and again. Those few books and authors that one constantly returns to; that one cannot travel without; that one needs to maintain one's sanity when all else is going Crazy Eddie. Here's a partial list, then, of what I've been re-reading this past month:

Thomas Merton: Woods, Shore, Desert
Diane Duane: The Door into Shadow
Hayden Carruth: Selected Essays and Reviews
Federico Garcia Lorca: Ode to Walt Whitman and other poems; Deep Song and other prose
John Welwood, ed.: Ordinary Magic: Everyday life as a spiritual path
Albert Gelpi, ed.: The Wild God of the World: An anthology of Robinson Jeffers
Tim Bergling: Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior

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