Sara Nelson had a great idea for a book lover’s book: She would spend one year (2002) reading a book a week and writing about it, compiling her efforts in So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading.
Although she started off with a list of 26 or so books that she wanted to read, there was not a lot of rhyme to her reason. She did not have a definitive list like Pulitzer Prize Winners, or Books I Meant to Read in College But Never Did, or anything like that. She ended up choosing the books each week in a pretty spontaneous fashion.
Likewise, she did not have a formula for how she wanted to write about the books. She did not want to simply write reviews of the books she read. She wanted to write about each book’s connection to her personal life, such as what was going on in her life that made her chose a particular book, personal views that made her react to a book in a certain way, or memories a book conjured.
In keeping with her theme, I considered my own personal connections with So Many Books as well as the books Nelson read. As she described, I decided I would try “matching up the reading experience with the personal one and watching where they intersect – or don’t.” There were a lot of intersections. Following Nelson’s bibliophile footsteps led me through familiar territory. For example, she and I share an aversion to over-hyped books (White Teeth and Everything is Illuminated are two we both avoided), we both think Philip Roth is the cat’s pajamas, and we had the exact same reaction to Anthony Bourdain when we read Kitchen Confidential (hard crush followed by exasperation and a desire to break up – although he and I have since reconciled over The Nasty Bits).
And there several places where are reading paths did not cross. Unlike Nelson, I very rarely abandon a book once I start it. I can think of only two – A Frolic of His Own and some V.I. Warshawski mystery. Nelson seems to favor contemporary novels and does not share my taste for nineteenth century books (although it is hard to tell from just one year of reading). Nor does she share my compulsion for prize winners and “must read” lists.
But the biggest personal jolt I got from So Many Books was realizing that Nelson is living the life I, as an English Lit major back in the ‘80s, had planned for myself. She lives in New York – in Greenwich Village no less – where she works for a magazine and writes books. She married an interesting man at a reasonable age and has one child. That is pretty much what I had in mind for myself until, a month before college graduation, my life took a turn for the old-fashioned when I fell in love with a local newspaper reporter and stayed in Portland, where we married at what now seems the ridiculous age of 23. Of course, had I gone to New York, my life would have been different, but not better. I would not have gone to law school, so I would not now have a profession I find enormously satisfying, I would not have met and (after taking a marital Mulligan) married my adored husband, and on and on. It’s not like I sit around pondering what my life would have been like had I followed my original post-college plans, but reading Nelson’s book really stirred up some memories and a few what-might-have-been fantasies. Which was what Nelson hoped would happen. She wanted to write about how books “get to” her personally. Hers certainly got to me.
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