Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reading Ahead



I do a quick tally of my to-be-read list.

1,981.

I look again at that single-spaced list of books on my computer, that long scroll of titles that, at various times over the past decade, have piqued my interest. One thousand, nine hundred and eighty-one books. That’s a lot of papercuts.

The TBR list ebbs and flows, but mostly flows. For every four titles I add in a zest of anticipation, I know that only one will be read. When all is said and done, there’s a lot more said than done; or, a lot more said than read. Still, the mountain of must-reads, my own Mount NeveRest, grows and grows and grows.

I have no expectation of chopping off very many of feet in elevation during 2019, but I do a have a plan. I will attack Mount NeveRest methodically, judiciously, alphabetically. At least that is my plan on this first day of the year; we’ll see how the other 364 play out.

As some of you who have popped in to my Facebook page already know, I have been making a practice of adding to my TBR list by going through 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich one volume per day (if I’ve already read Mr. Mustich’s suggestion, all the better....but, like I said, that’s about one in four). The 1,000 Books Before You Die roster supplements my already-existing Essentials List. My plan is to alternate reading one book from the top of the list (James Agee, for instance) with one from the bottom (Emile Zola, I’m looking at you!).

Alternating with that system, I intend to take a book off the top of my ebook and “regular” book lists, which means the newer (2018 and 2019 vintage) books which I’ve been hoping to read soon. That way, I can get the best of both classic and modern literature in my diet.

Taking a peek at that latter list, here are the books which have climbed to the top (though they could always be bumped down a notch or two by other shiny new arrivals):

Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson
I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
The Municipalists by Seth Fried
Veterans Crisis Hotline by Jon Chopan
Little Faith by Nickolas Butler

But first, it’s Agatha Christie. I have a long-standing tradition of making the first book I read in the new year one by Dame Agatha. Last year, it was The Boomerang Clue; the year before that, it was Death in the Air; in 2016, it was Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. I’ve read about half of her prolific output and I’m working on the second half, starting this year with the 1933 mystery Thirteen at Dinner (aka Lord Edgware Dies). Double bonus points for the fact that it’s one of the Dell Mapbacks in my collection. I love these vintage paperbacks for the stylized maps they included, as the name states, on the back cover.


Thirteen at Dinner is a fairly routine, by-the-numbers Christie mystery. So far, nothing outright memorable has reared its bloody head to distinguish it from the many other Christies I have read. But I’m okay with a comfortable, routine investigation at this point. I read Agatha Christie to slow down, to savor, to allow my mind to float, to hover over the scene in the locked drawing room, to dissolve into the clues and to transport myself to the scene of the crime. Harsh cold weather, the bleak midwinter government furlough, the wind-up chattering-teeth noise of news headlines: all of that melts away as Hercule Poirot strokes his mustaches and announces, on page 140 (of 240 pages!!), “I know the truth of the whole affair.”

Of course he does. And now I settle in for the delicious 100-page tease in which I try, and fail and fail again, to match wits with Monsieur Poirot.

It’s a fun game to play: me in my armchair with a book and nothing but time on my hands (thanks to the government furlough) to solve a murder.


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