This is the time of year when all the year-end “Best” lists start appearing — best restaurants, best songs, best movies and best books of 2013. Ordinarily I don’t agree with most of the choices on these lists, especially a hopelessly esoteric “Best Movies of 2013” list from Richard Brody of The New Yorker. Except for The Wolf of Wall Street, there wasn’t a ‘mainstream’ or ‘popular’ movie in the Brody Bunch. What happened to American Hustle, Gravity, Catching Fire or Enough Said?
Life is too short to read bad books. I remain resolved more out of irreconcilability than insight and more out of disobedience than discernment — not to read that list “30 lawyers pick 30 books every lawyer should read.” Besides, it’s a crappy list of books.
My own list.
Speaking of lists, though, I keep my own. This year, it’s the 47 books I read, including one just finished, Heads in Beds, “a reckless memoir of hotels, hustles, and so-called hospitality.”
For almost 20 years, I’ve kept track of the books I annually read — or at least a list of the ones not related to work.
I don’t know why I keep these lists. It’s not like I claim them as ‘best of anything’ or share them with anyone. More than likely its the small satisfaction provided that come year-end as the Bard once wrote, I’ve kept faith with my own true self.
Desultory but delightful.
Which means — so much for Seneca’s admonition, “Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed.” My undirected informal reading would disturb an acquaintance I have who subscribes to the Senecan point of view in all she does. If you’re going to do something — you’d better have a purpose.
I don’t need any more reason than that a book sounds interesting. I can do the highbrow and the lowbrow. I love poetry or history and polemics or suspense. And why choose between philosophy or fantasy, when you can read both? From Jo Nesbø to Bernard Cornwell to Joseph Epstein to Christopher Hitchens to Ferdinand Von Schirach to Guy Gavriel Kay to Justin Cronin to Mary Oliver and a host of others from the forgettably fun to the infuriatingly provocative.
The lifelong bookworm.
I have a friend who reads well over 100 books a year. She turned 80 this year and reads for the pure enjoyment. That she’s as mentally sharp as ever may satisfy someone’s idea of directed purpose since researchers claim that being a lifelong bookworm reduces the rate of “memory decline by 32 percent compared to engaging in average mental activity.” As Victor Davis Hanson wrote in answer to the question, “So Why Read Anymore?”, “The mind is a muscle. Without exercise, it reverts to mush.”
And as I figured out in grade school and what remains true today in our time of meaningless amazement, Hanson’s also right when he writes, “Reading alone enriches our vocabulary; it teaches us that good writing requires a sense of melody as well as a command of grammar. Soon those well-read become the well-spoken.”
There are a handful of lawyers I know who read outside of work. I like to think there are a lot more.
But you have to make the time to read. Otherwise I’m afraid Julie Rugg, author of A Book Addict’s Treasury, is mostly correct when she says, “People who say they don’t have time to read simply don’t want to.”
Here’s to my next list.
Photo Credits: “Scoo-dee” big grin, by Karin Jones at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Young man reading by candlelight” by Matthias Stom via Wikipedia Commons, public domain.
And a hat tip to my buddy Gary M. for the lead on Hanson’s “So Why Read Anymore?”