Gutenberg: Colored engraving created in about the 19th century. Artist unknown. Source: Bettman-Corbis reproductions

"I never feel wealthier than when I'm carrying a fresh pile of found books out the front portal of my local library."

I identify as Bookish in the same way that some identify as Jewish. This seems largely a genetic inheritance combined with a cultural tradition. Bookishness carries deep obligation along with certain evolving rituals, tradition compounded through diligent practice. My shelves overflow with treasured artifacts, reminders of theres and thens, wheres and whens from my past. My social and spiritual evolution seems catalogued in my library, each volume a memory of a specific place in time, most holding some residue of satisfaction or insight, though I retain a few there out of possible spite, for I have through books maintained an inner dialogue, a dialectic inquiry into the vast variety and novelty of this life, little of which I feel properly positioned to personally experience. I've despised some of this. My library and my much broader catalogue came to more than merely inform me, but to define who I've come to become. My education ongoing, settling little to nothing, yet the dialogue/monologue continues.

I read much more than I write, and might most properly identify myself more as a reader than as a writer, though few accept reader as an identity or a profession, for it pays nothing but dividends, no cash incomes.
Reading demands investment without expected remuneration, the very soul of a free good. It remains an essentially infinite resource, for through the course of any lifetime, any individual might ever sample only an infinitesimal portion of the whole. I read not to learn but to experience the utter magic of tele-transportation. I spent some of yesterday in modern day Texas border country witnessing a remorseful Federal border agent kidnap a seven year old illegal alien from ICE custody to reunite her with her mother across the border, and I spent the early evening in 1983 Belfast witnessing the tail end of The Troubles from the perspective of a Catholic member of the Ulster constabulary. I took to my bed feeling well-traveled, indeed, though still in deep sequestration.

The Muse insists that I know a lot, though I seem to know very little about a broad range of topics. I'll read almost anything, though despite my innate Bookishness, I'm increasingly picky. I will not tolerate crap, and there's much crap to be had. I return with extreme prejudice mistaken acquisitions. I much prefer libraries to personally purchasing now that my personal library borders on overwhelming. I do not have enough shelf space to keep all the books I read, and most of those books hardly warrant permanent possession, for they seem necessarily transitory. I might thoroughly enjoy a story without ever considering it part of my permanent collection, for I picked up the damned thing to aid in some transition, not to build some intimidating edifice to my ongoing book-sourced education. I will likely forget the author's name along with the volume's title before I've finished reading the damned thing, its full purpose being transportation, not more permanent habitation.

The sequestration introduced a kink into my supply chain. Libraries closed for the duration, I'm learning to fall back on audio versions. I peruse the Sunday NYTimes Book Review and reserve the audio for each title I feel attracted to, sometimes entering an apparently infinite queue, but other times finding some freshly-released title appear within a day or two. I maintain what I think of as a healthy backlog of enqueued titles, which I try to absorb in the order in which they were originally published, allowing me to savor an author's evolution. I finish two or three titles every week, but never keep track of what I've read. I frequently find that I've checked out something I've already read, demonstrating some sense of consistency in my palate. With audio, I can engage in side work while reading, something I never could muster with the printed word. I cannot bear background sounds when reading, music, television, and radio apparent mortal enemies of the practice, but I might become a more dedicated yard and house worker when listening. I sense that I'm a much better driver when listening to an audio book, too.

The purpose of my ongoing dialectic was never to settle anything, but to roll concepts and images around in my head. I admit that I started trying to become Bookish when I learned that writers read … a lot … and I sincerely wanted to learn how to become a writer. Great writing instructs in the curious art of writing well, in ways that direct instruction never could. Writers do not so much need to know how to write to write well, but they seem to need to develop a deep feeling for what constitutes great writing. The act of writing eventually became essentially preconscious to me, feeding off tacit understanding more than explicit knowledge. I do not so much know how to write but how to distinguish between great writing and garbage. I never consciously try to emulate other writers, but whatever I'm currently reading seems to seep into whatever I'm currently writing. Those days when my writing seems to have strayed usually follow days when I subjected myself to another example of poor writing which infected me before I could jettison the perpetrator.

I never feel wealthier than when I'm carrying a fresh pile of found books out the front portal of my local library. A fresh queue of titles in my audio book app hardly compares, but it represents where I find myself now. I will not long remember what I read that delivered me through the darker sequestration days, but I will retain the absolute certainly that those authors carried me through on broad shoulders. I will later today continue to witness that Detective Inspector wrestle with the IRA, whatever else I might accomplish today. I will hold for a few days longer the link to Don Winslow's remarkable new short story collection Broken, which so magically transported me through last weekend, so that The Muse and I can finish the story about the chimp in the San Diego Zoo that somehow came into possession of a revolver. These authors became my friends while in isolation, and Bookish nature or not, their friendship brought me through … so far.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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