Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What's with all these books?

Sometimes, like now, I just can't find anything to read. Or, I can find tons of things to read, everything at the library ends up sort of interesting to me sometimes, everything. I just can't find anything that seems that great once I'm reading it. I am not a "Too many books, too little time!" person. I am more a "Where are all the great books person."  At least I am sometimes. And one of the things that completely confounds me is that I am surrounded by an astonishingly rarefied collection of writing. Millions and millions of people are writing books. It is even a bit of a cliche how difficult it is to get published. So this tiny, unprocessably tiny group of superstars/publishing lottery winners actually makes it into print after other people stake their livelihoods on thinking it is of sufficient merit and conceivable popularity. Of these books the great majority are almost instantly forgotten or lost in the shuffle. But some smaller amount are of enough notoriety and buzz to get reviewed. Some of these books get bad reviews, some pretty good reviews and some, very few, get glowing reviews. These are the books I am constantly running across at the library, stashing away, taking to the break room, carting in mammoth bags to my home, books that get "A"s in every magazine, semi-rare publishers' weekly starred reviews, best books, New York Times Bestsellers, pick of the months etc. I am often amazed at how I'll just completely miss the book when even the angels are singing its praises and am now only finding it 4 years later, when it sits forgotten and rarely checked out on our shelves. Either way, I read the first 5 or 10 or 40 pages. It's pretty good. I put it down. I go on to other things. I find it in my chest of library books many, many weeks later. " I guess I better return it."  I think, without even a touch of remorse.

Is this sour grapes? Is it an argument that our whole grand human ability to make art is overrated? I don't think so. I think some of it is just mood. Lately I keep hearing music I like, but the books aren't working out. Mostly what I'm thinking is that maybe this whole filtering system isn't all its cracked up to be. The hype isn't necessarily wrong, or a lie, it's just that stuff is everywhere, people are wildly different, and the magic of art shows up in crazy places, is ungovernable, combusts in a moment of alchemical magic. It might be under a bridge or long since weeded from most libraries across the country. It might be an ink drawing on a coffee shop bathroom wall. It might be handwritten in a notebook by someone's bed or it might be a group of songs a friend plays for you in your living room. Are these things the greatest things ever? Are they Bernini, Bob Dylan, Jane Austen? Eh, why not, depends on where you are and how you're feeling.

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