I’ve been feeling so restless and scattered lately with my reading (and maybe my life?) Nothing seems to hold my attention for very long. After I finished Effi Briest, which book I loved, I ordered more Fontane and while I was waiting for those books to arrive in the mail, I started a few others (well, more than a few). Since it is the centenary of the Russian Revolution in October, I pulled off of my shelves several books of Russian history and literature that I had every intention of reading this month. I managed to get about 60 pages into Gulag Letters by Arsenii Formakov and 20 pages into China Mievelle’s book October. I also set aside 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution and Russian Émigré Short Stories, which have yet to make it off of my coffee table.
But I was craving more fiction so I read two short books, The Year of the Drought by Roland Buti which I enjoyed, but didn’t take much time to read, and Annie Ernaux’s A Man’s Place which I thought was interesting but not fantastic. (I’ve ordered a few more of her books to see if any other of her titles resonate more with me than this first one I read.) After staring at the three stacks of books sitting on my coffee table, wandering into the book room and staring at my shelves, flipping through the books on my bedside table, and consulting literary Twitter, I thought Joanna Walsh’s new collection of short fiction might be just the thing for me. And I was right, sort of…
Walsh’s second story in Worlds from the Word’s End entitled “Bookshelves” begins by describing a bibliophile’s collection of books. I felt right at home in her story, among her books:
They spill from your shelves. They sprawl by your bed, luxurious, splayed sometimes and discarded at an early page, broken by your attentions. On your shelf more books you would like to read are waiting, books you have ordered, their white bodies fat with potential.
But the author acknowledges that sometimes being surrounded by this number of books is overwhelming, one can’t possibly read all of them because “there are just so many to conquer.” Walsh then asks us to open our minds and imagine, “Something you never thought might happen”: A being who crawls out of your bookshelf who has read all of your neglected books! Imagine stumbling upon this being sitting at your table, smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee. This being has actually read all of your discarded, half-read books, anything that was sitting in a bag for the charity shop, including “ill-judged gifts from well-meaning relatives” and “gardening manuals” and even the “memoirs of politicians.” I began to feel better about the stacks of books sitting neglected on my own shelves and a little less guilty about the dozens of books I’ve sent to the charity shop. I especially like the ending when the narrator realizes that this poor being has read some really lousy books and she feels grateful and even superior for her own literary discretion.
It is fitting that I didn’t actually finish all of the stories in Walsh’s collection, abandoning the book just before I made it through the last few stories. My attention was diverted by the arrival of Thomas Bernhard’s Collected Poems and Music & Literature No. 8. So I was hoping that one night, very late, when I can’t sleep that I will stumble into my kitchen and encounter one of my cats, sitting at the table, with a cigarette in one paw, a book in the other, and a glass of wine/whiskey in front of him, who will describe to me the rest of Walsh’s book.
Meanwhile, my other Fontane books arrived in the post and I’ve started Irretrievable. So I guess I will stick with German Lit. for a while, but then again…