When I was in high-school, my parents bought me as a surprise present the first generation of Amazon Kindles. I was thrilled. Though I had a car, I was constantly hauling what felt like the entire Library of Congress up onto my back and carrying it with me to school. My part time job required me to get on the highway and sometimes there was traffic. I would leave early, and sometimes need to run through the mall to get to work, and sometimes have 20 extra minutes. That meant I needed something to read. My phone was not smart. Twitter existed but just barely. Malls do not have newspapers for free and I made $6.25 an hour.
Really the problem was that I never knew what I would want to read. I would arrive at the mall and sneak through the hallways hidden behind the stores and arrive in our staging area only to realize I didn’t want to read the novel I’d brought. I wanted the non-fiction book. So for years I just carried several books with me everywhere. The kindle, I thought, would fix this problem.
It did not.
I cannot explain why I don’t read on the kindle. I think partly it’s an aversion to paying money for art that you cannot physically own and lend, a deep-seated fear that Amazon might just delete the files of all the books you’ve paid for. But more than that I think it’s a culture of reading. I like to snoop on people’s book covers at the bar or on the bus. Who am I to deny others that joy?
This is really only a problem when I am going out of town for a few days as I am this week. I am taking a few days in the woods to find some calmness and read some books and try not to keep having the same conversation where people ask me how my new exciting job is and I have to say “it’s a shitshow.” I’m planning to read a lot and maybe do a puzzle and let me dog run through tick-infested grass without a leash.
Here is how I am going to pack books:
-step one: Leave room in your bag. It is inevitable that no matter how many books you bring with you, you will find some used bookstore and buy three to five more books.
-step two: pick an old standard: New books are not always good. Even books I think I want I sometimes start on vacation and realize are not what I wanted. This is why it is important to bring a book that you love with you, but that you can just pick up at random to satisfy yourself. I think I am going to bring Woolf’s The Waves.
-step three: genre diversity: I am bringing a book of poetry, a book of “short essays”, a non-fiction, and a novel. This way, theoretically, I will have everything I could potentially want.
-step four: beauty or plot: usually this problem is solved by making sure to bring some poetry, but one problem with being in the woods for a couple of days is that you never know if you are going to want a banger of a plot, or something meandering and slow, gorgeous and overwrought.
-step five: two extra books for good measure.
Here are the books I am (as of right now) bringing on my two day trip to the woods:
-Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
-Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights
-Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus
-Malcolm Harris’s Kids these Days: The Making of Millennials
-Muriel Spark’s the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
-Lyz Lenz’s God Land
Happy Tuesday! Please let me know if you are reading anything good and old that I can buy at the used bookstore I inevitably find.
image is Pieter Elinga’s Reading Woman (1660)