Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Real First World Problem

Ok, I know the whole #firstworldproblems thing is like SO 2011. But really there's no other way to describe the conundrum I am facing.

I have reached a point in life where, generally speaking, I'm not terribly interested in re-reading books. Not because I don't love books and not because I don't think I'd get more out of a re-read book, but because there are so very many books that I want to read, and life is short. Sometimes very short, indeed.

Obviously I make occasional exceptions to this no re-reading thing. It's not a rule. It's just a general feeling.

So here's the conundrum: keeping books. I love my books, but I am a merciless clutter culler. The Husband and I often pick up a half dozen new books at a second hand shop, read them and then donate them back. But not always. We sometimes keep ones that were especially good. Husband is a serial re-reader. Nothing he loves more than reading a good book for the 14th time. He's also an especially fast reader, so the whole mortality thing maybe is less important. He can get through about 5 books to every one that I read (and I pleasure read quite a lot I think -- a couple of hours everyday). When we're on vacation, he has to pack at least 3 or 4, and even then he usually ends up reading the one or 2 I've brought as well.

Just recently I've really gotten stuck on one book in particular, and thus a problem arises. Last year, whilst Child was being born and nursed in the hospital, I was reading First Circle, by Solzhenitsyn. It's a monstrous door-stop of a book, a paperback with the dimensions of a new hardcover, with nearly 600 pages of normal paperback sized text. It weighs much. It's also weighty in its subject matter: 3 days in the lives of dozens of people associated with an urban gulag for engineers in the Soviet Union. It details the excruciating minutiae of their days as prisoners, guards, civilian employees, and outsiders under suspicion. There are moments of levity as the prisoners attempt to keep their sanity with a variety of mind games. There is terror as someone new is brought into the prison and immediately dehumanized in a few short hours. There is love and devotion and despair and labyrinthine rules creating one catch-22 after another. It's the type of book that gives great clarity by exposing obfuscation. It is vast in its scope. It's a wondrous book, I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it.

Will I ever read it again? No. Why not? It doesn't really matter, but mostly it's because it took me ages to finish it. Partly that's because it's huge. Partly it's because I read it during a difficult period of life when I didn't have loads of time to devote to it. But the main reason why I don't want to read it again is that I want to read other books, and if I spend all my time re-reading this, I can't do that, or at least I can't do it as readily. It basically boils down to: it's long and I don't want to.

So, should I keep the book? If I donate the book to a charity shop, there's a chance someone will pick it up who would otherwise have never considered it, and their life will perhaps be richer for it. If I keep it, I can push it on people who I think would like it, and perhaps more people would read it if it were being handed to them by an enthusiast. I lend books out a lot, and I can easily think of several people of my acquaintance to whom I'd suggest this particular book. Do I have a duty to circulate it? Should I hang onto it in case Child reaches a point when she might like it? Should I base this decision on how much room it takes up in my bookcase (answer: a lot)? Although huge, it does look nice on my bookcase. I don't mean that in a snobbish way -- if I were worried about whether guests thought my bookcase was highbrow enough, it would look a lot different. But aesthetically, it adds an interestingly brutalist splotch in an otherwise more colorful visual block.

Opinions welcome.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Blog about Blogs

Perhaps this is like writers who write about writers and writing. Nonetheless:

I am a voracious reader of blogs - particularly food and gardening blogs, some on politics. Nothing remarkable here. I have on a few occasions attempted to start a food blog of my own, which invariably falls down because a) I have terrible photography skills, and this is important to a nice food blog; b) my food, though delicious, is not always beautiful (I'm no Martha); c) I have a lot of difficulty committing to it, i.e. posting regularly (this post on this blog is a pretty good example of my lack of posting commitment).

Today I was reading through one of my favorites, which I haven't looked at in a while (Things We Make), gathering ideas for goodies. In the course of doing so, I started to think, I really should post that if I make it. So many people I know would love that. Ooo I should make that and post it. Yes I know someone who would love it, and it would be pretty!

Then I had this thought: I do want to make these, but do I really want to go through the hassle of posting it? Will anyone even care if I post it? If I post it and only 2 people look at it, will that be worth it?

Then a millisecond later I had this thought: Why the hell am I always thinking I should post anything? Isn't it enough that I make wonderful little treats for friends and family and share them in person? Why do I feel compelled to share them on the internet? Why do I care so much whether other people agree that my cookies look scrumptious. I don't care if someone on the other side of the planet thinks they look scrumptious. I only care if they in fact are scrumptious, and only people who are close enough to eat them can tell me that. Why must I seek validation for my baking skills from a non-consumer audience?!

Clearly this whole thing got a bit out of hand very quickly.

But my questions remains: why do I feel the need to share pictures of unexceptional things with others? I might make some delicious delicious cookies, but it is unlikely in the extreme that I will make prettier cookies than Claire of Things We Make or Deb of Smitten Kitchen or David Lebovitz or a host of other much more polished and professional foodies. I really ought to leave it to them to supply the photographs of the finished products. They also have fancy cameras and light boxes, and have attended classes in Spain and Jamaica and everywhere else on food styling, photography and the like. I have a phone with an ok camera, and an ok camera that isn't a phone. I have no light box, and I have pretty much no clue on good photography, though not for lack of reading about it. I am not disheartened or have some kind of insecurity issue. I am merely stating the facts of the matter. I am not a good food blogger. I am a terrible food blogger. So why am I, and so very many like me, always trying to food blog?

If I were to get really socially analytic about my own motivations, I'd say it's to do with the fact that once upon a time, I was more likely to share food with my loved ones in person than I do now. Most of my loved ones live too far away to have the odd Sunday dinner or even major holidays together. These were important  food moments in my childhood, with hours spent around the dining room table having course after course, well into the evening. Those days are mostly gone now, or at least for  now, for the above-mentioned reason. Also there's the fact that Husband's parents are wary of my cooking, so they refuse any food from us 99% of the time. (I won't even delve into the irony of that last sentence, since it is frankly an abyss from which I wouldn't resurface.) There is an element of pride to it, in that I think I wish for family and friends to see that I'm still carrying a torch for the dinner parties of another era, that I can do it as well as my mother did it, perhaps, even though that's getting a little too pop psychology for me.

Lastly, why is my conceit so overwhelming that I felt the need to share this with the universe? Basically that I promised myself that I would write at least a little bit everyday, and I got sick of blathering to my personal journal about these trivialities. Have a nice day!