Non-necessary reading

January 9, 2013

This year, I have decided to make space for more non-urgent reading. This is reading that isn’t about keeping up with work-related issues or the latest, best writers. It might mean that I will have to lay off a bit on my habit of reading the New York Times Book Review and imagining the necessity of reading everything that is in it.

Although he puts it differently, Chris Smith of the Englewood Review of Books is apparently on the same track. He started the new year by recommending that people turn to the classics in 2013. He defines “classic” in a way similar to my own line of thought: books that are simply “not of the moment.”

The main reason I want to do this is to move out of the mode where all reading is utilitarian. Old books are places where I anticipate pleasures that have nothing to do with keeping up with or being a part of. I want to have one old book by my nightstand and read a little from it every night, as a rabbit hole down which I can disappear in order to have my imagination expanded.

My list is eclectic. It represents gaps in my education and places I have wanted to go but have never gone. Here it is:

Villette, by Charlotte Brontë. I love a psychological novel, and when I read Charlotte Brontë I get the kind of pleasurable transportation that reading has always provided for me. But I have never read Villette, about young Lucy Snow who travels to teach at an all-girls school and finds her certainties about herself challenged. 

The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. More than 20 years ago, I read Mann’s Doctor Faustus and loved the interplay of narrative and philosophy. I always meant to move on to The Magic Mountain, but now two decades have passed. This is the kind of book that demands the slow reading that I intend to make time for in 2013.

Sor Juana, by Octavio Paz. This book will allow me a triple pleasure: reading about colonial Mexico, learning about one of its central poets, and reading prose by the more contemporary Mexican poet Paz (whose work I have always wanted to understand more deeply).

The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton. What can I say? I have never read it. This year, I will.