Reading at Random

Every week I shop the new-book shelf at the library, almost always finding half a dozen books that interest me. Occasionally, I make myself branch out from my preferred mystery-as-escape selections. I start at the biography section and I check to see if there is new poetry. This week I found a  biography of Sylvia Plath, American Isis, which a friend had recommended, so that went into the bag, along with a memoir by Jacob Tomsky, Heads in Beds, his insider account of the luxury hotel business. Add a memoir by a Kenyan writer, a book about water shortage and misuse, a Sidney Sheldon novel that proved to be too gory for my taste, and a delicious history of cooking utensils by Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork. Just for to avoid an ugly withdrawal, a mystery, Marjorie Eccles’ After Clare.

My random selections most often run about 60/40 worth reading to DNF (did not finish). I like the surprise of discovering a new read. But, ah–you knew there was a but, eh–after reading about Plath’s very purposeful reading habits, I feet a little guilty. Sure, she went to Smith and I didn’t. She did her graduate work at Cambridge and I didn’t. (Of course, she also committed suicide and I . . . well, obviously.) I have known about the books mentioned in that bio, and I now regret my promiscuous reading habits. Then I skimmed materials I’m gathering for teaching a fall semester course on the techniques of contemporary poetry. There, like a jury of my peers, I faced the accusation of having been dissolute in my reading. It’s a long list of poets to master. If I start at the beginning with Caedmon (c. 1000) and read through the English language poets I’ll be brain dead before I finish. Then there are those to read in translation, Akhmatova to Tsvetaeva. Too much, too much, I have to go lie down. With a good book. Or ten.