On the floor next to my desk as I write is Peace, They Say, Jay Nordlinger's new history of the Nobel Peace Prize; Surviving Hell, Leo Thorsness's account of his years as a POW in North Vietnamese; and Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
I really want to read them.
But I still haven't gotten around to At the Edge of the Precipice, Robert Remini's book on Henry Clay and the Compromise of 1850; All Other Nights, Dara Horn's historical thriller about Jewish soldiers in the Civil War; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's memoir, Infidel -- and I really wanted to read them, too.
I suppose it's time I faced reality: I'll never catch up on my must-read list. How can I, when they keep publishing books I'm so impatient to read?
William F. Buckley Jr. once described the experience of entering a well-appointed home in which something seemed out of order. It took him a few moments to realize the problem: There were no books. It was jarring, Buckley wrote, to be confronted with the fact that are people in whose lives books play no role whatsoever.
In my life, by contrast, books increasingly seem to play the role of those falling geometric shapes in Tetris. That's the classic video game in which you either clear out the shapes efficiently as they fall, or they stack up so high that no space is left -- and you lose.
It's an old lament of mine that I'm not a fast writer, but to paraphrase Tevye the Dairyman, would it spoil some vast eternal plan if God had made me at least a fast reader? Theodore Roosevelt was able to read, on average, a book a day; when he compiled a list in 1903 of the books he'd read since becoming president two years earlier, it ran to three single-spaced pages. Over the course of an exceptionally busy life, he read thousands of books, many in foreign languages. And, his biographer Edmund Morris notes, TR generally remembered everything he read. Dear Lord, what I wouldn't give for reading prowess like that.