This morning, I read a review of Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, and it gave me pause, as these book reviews often do. I always feel a bit abashed at how few of these important novelists I'm reading--he's a Nobel laureate, after all. And then there's a moment when I do a Google search and read the Wikipedia article--which books am I feeling bad about not reading?
And then there's a moment of further self-castigation: I haven't even seen the movies of the very important books!
I try to remember the names of other authors whom I haven't read, and I spend a bit more time in Googling and remembering and trying to convince myself that I'm more well-read than I'm giving myself credit for. I think of my grad school days and trying to figure out how I would ever catch up with 20th century British Lit, one of the fields I studied intensely. And now I'm further behind.
Oh, let's be honest. I'm not going to catch up--to say I'm behind implies I will even try. And I won't. I wish I could say that I'm not catching up because I'm maintaining my expert status elsewhere, but that's not true either.
These days, I have a serendipitous approach to my reading life. I just finished a fabulous book about Athens, Georgia in the 1970's and 80's, and how it became so influential in the world of pop and rock music: Grace Elizabeth Hale's Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was not only a deep dive into one town and into bands I loved once (but don't really listen to these days), but also a meditation on how to be an artist and how to stay true to that calling.
While I don't want to deny myself the treat of serendipitous finds like that one, perhaps it is time to be more intentional. I remember back in high school when I was worried I would get to college and be unprepared. I thought my high school wasn't requiring enough of the classic, so I took it upon myself to read more. For every 2 books I read for pleasure, I required myself to read one of the great books. They tended to be 19th century classics from England and the U.S., white, and male. That's how we defined classics in the 1980's.
Perhaps it's time to try some self-improvement via reading again.