And how many total pages is that, you may ask?

Spring is a time for new beginnings. My thoughts turn to projects like spring cleaning, putting new handles on the trapdoor to the roof, finishing the one-hundred pushup workout in time for beach season. And thoughts of projects turn to feelings of being overwhelmed and premonitions of failure. Fertile ground for a post.

Writing about all my projects, though, promised to quickly get out of hand — too long, too depressing. Instead, I’m limiting myself to a subset of my projects: books sitting next to my bed that I haven’t finished reading. (There are other unfinished books elsewhere, I think, but I’ll spare you.) In no particular order:

Capital by Karl Marx. A month ago I followed some links to the website of David Harvey, a professor at CUNY whose Brief History of Neoliberalism I enjoyed. Harvey teaches Capital once a year, and one whole round of his lectures is available in podcast form on his website. The first lecture was pretty good, so I ordered the text. Not sure if I’ll ever finish it.

The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Moby–The Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age by Mark Prendergast. Bought this at the Harvard Coop a few years ago on a business trip to Boston. It’s interesting stuff, but the writing isn’t as polished as I’d like. I might finish it someday.

World Light by Halldór Laxness. Picked this up at a used bookstore a month before I went to Iceland. I’d enjoyed Under the Glacier by the same author, Iceland’s major, Nobel Prize-winning novelist. This one is good, but I got distracted. I’ll probably pick it up again in the summer when it’s deadly hot.

Donald Judd: The Complete Writings 1959-1979. A thoughtful Christmas present from the then-boyfriend. This is something you dip into again and again. Judd is really insightful, although his writing style is at times annoyingly vague and bound to mid-century mannerisms.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. I never read this as a grad student in political philosophy, so I bought it a year or two ago. It’s pretty good, and now that I notice it on the shelf I’ll hopefully grab it again when I need some subway reading.

The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin. Okay, so I have a weakness for political theory. This is a classic among ecologically oriented anarchists. I’m not far enough in to decide whether it’s brilliant or complete bullshit.

Musimathics Vol. 1 by Gareth Loy. Really cool book, but the math gets hard. I need to go back and do the first couple chapters again, after getting through:

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory by Michael Miller. This came with great online reviews, and so far it’s very good. I need to know a lot more music theory to do what I want to do with my own music, and this book is the keystone in my “learn music theory while sitting on the crapper” plan.

The Essential Wallerstein by Immanuel Wallerstein. Wallerstein is a historian/economist/political scientist with really big ideas and a lucid writing style. This collection of important papers is really great if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ve read about two thirds of it.

Auden by Richard Davenport-Hines. An interesting literary biography of maybe my favorite poet. Problem is, Auden’s life gets a bit boring after he converts to Christianity and meets Chester Kallman. Or maybe there are exciting bits ahead, and I just have to power through. Anyway, I’ve been reading this for two or three years, to the point where it’s embarrassing.

The Conscience of the Eye by Richard Sennett. I picked this up at a used bookstore when I had nothing else to read (except probably half of the above, but I wasn’t in the mood!). It’s about cities and something or other. I dunno, haven’t gotten into it.

Celine Dion Let’s Talk About Love (33 1/3) by Carl Wilson. This is my current subway reading and it won’t last long on the unfinished list. It’s really smart and fun.

Ask me in six months how many of these are still unfinished. (I read for pleasure and for information, not because I have to, but I still feel guilty when I don’t read things I think I ought to.) And please tell me I’m not alone in having at least a dozen half-read books lying around.

10 responses to “And how many total pages is that, you may ask?”

  1. You are not alone in that — my life is full of books I’m meaning to read or have started. Somehow in the last few weeks I do not seem to be picking any of them up.

  2. Scotty says:

    Such an almost benign subset of failure. Great post.

  3. Tim Wager says:

    I loved this post. I think what books people aspire to read says as much about them as what books they’ve actually read. Currently on my bedside table, gathering dust and getting consumed in bits and chunks are the following:

    Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson (“It’s Denis Johnson; it must be good,” I thought; individually, the sentences and paragraphs are excellent, but I just can’t get the momentum going on it);

    Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje (loved the first 3/4 of it, but lost interest when my favorite character tried to kill himself, haven’t wanted to find out if he makes it);

    Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David Foster Wallace (see first entry, but substitute “DFW”);

    Fakers, Paul Maliszewski (each chapter covers a different recent literary scandal — entertaining, and does not need to be read through consecutively);

    Second Skin, John Hawkes (tried it again after 15 years or so; loved The Lime Twig but just haven’t gotten into this one);

    Daydream Nation, Matthew Stearns (a 33 1/3 book, acquired as a giveaway; sometimes listening to a record is better than reading about it; perfect size and shape to stand upright and cover the brightly-lit alarm clock display);

    Following New Trails, Ernest Horn et al. (found on a curb in LBC, this 1940 middle school textbook has the most soothing informational prose I have ever encountered; a sample: “If you live near the seashore or have visited there, it is likely that you have gone crabbing, for it is lots of fun and not at all difficult.”).

  4. Stephanie Wells says:

    Dave, I’m sure everyone reading can completely empathize with the pile of half-read books (which also says something about the books themselves, not only the reader–because even if you mean to finish them, if they’re REALLY compelling, you don’t put them down till they’re done, despite the stacks of bookmarked ones next to them that got there first).

    And I love those 33 1/3 books! I just wish there were one for Marquee Moon.

  5. Dave says:

    This is my first 33 1/3, actually. I’m really enjoying it, but I’m not sure how typical it is of the series, since it’s not really designed to appeal to fans of the album in question, which the author happens to hate.

  6. I believe Dr. Waterman is writing a 33 1/3 book about Marquee Moon.

  7. Rachel says:

    Is it weird that I force myself to read one book at a time, until it’s done (two, max)? With reading for my classes, the NYT, and various other periodicals, that’s all my brain can handle. I wish I could go hang out in your fascinating brain for a while, Dave. (Minus the music theory on the crapper part, perhaps.)

  8. Man, you intimidate me, Dave, with your choice of pleasure reading. You read things you think you ought to. I buy them and put them on my shelves because I think my family will ask for them when they have to read them for school, but don’t really have any intention of reading them.

    I just finished Groupmind by Mike Conner. It’s one of those sci-fi paperbacks that was published in the 70s/80s that has crappy cover appeal but is actually really good/entertaining writing. You know, the books that have turned uniformly yellow on the edges but have obviously never been opened.

    And yes, Dave, I do have books that I’ve started and gotten into but haven’t finished. But I don’t have delusions and hopes that I will finish it, so I leave the bookmark in, after making sure it’s not a bookmark I particularly like, and put it back in the shelf with all the other books I’ve finished. I think the bookmark adds character to the book and reminds me of what kind of a book it was because I didn’t finish it.

    Lately, my book habit has been to buy a bunch of them at a bookstore, leave them in J’s office for him to catalog, and then find a place for them on our shelves. Meanwhile, I have an active pile of five or six books that I want to read. I read one at a time until I’m done with the pile, then go scour my bookshelf for more books to make a new pile.

    I haven’t always read like this. For most of my life, I’ve been in school, and I will only read books on the weekends or on school breaks. Most of the time. Sometimes, my mom had to hide my books from me because I was reading them instead of doing my homework. During the summer, I’d go to the library and get as many books as I could, then make a pile and just plow through them.

    All this with the understanding that when I open a book, most of the time, I inhale it. Unless it’s a dense book or a month-by-month book. Some books aren’t meant to be inhaled.

  9. Dave says:

    Eh, I really didn’t mean for this list to be intimidating. Harry Potter isn’t on it because I read all those books really fast, not because I didn’t read them.

    Rachel, you have a lot of self control.

  10. PB says:

    I have the inhale or the sit around for months problem or reread what I have already inhaled or finally finished. No good steady one by one schedule at all. Hmmmm, what does this say about so much.
    But I am actually moving through Helprin’s Winter’s Tale which was a sit around with a book marker at various points for years and now I might finish. It is so beautiful and very dense – I am hoping I move to inhale quickly before it drifts from my hands again.