I read mostly fiction, but about once a year I shift to non-fiction for a little while. I am in one of those phases now. I just finished a book about college admissions and am half done with two other non-fiction books. One of them is Michael Pollan’s book about psilocybin, and the other is Walter Mosley’s book about writing. When I am in the middle of a non-fiction jag, I wonder why I don’t read more of it. In a month, however, I will come to the realization that non-fiction rarely grabs me the way fiction does, and I will return to my former reading habits.
When I think of books I couldn’t put down, two stand out – and both are fiction. One is Catch-22. The other is The Name of the Rose. I first read Catch-22 forty-five years ago, The Name of the Rose maybe fifteen years later. I still remember the two weekends I didn’t leave my apartment, barely sleeping and eating only slapped-together sandwiches so I could keep reading. I read Catch-22 before my first marriage and The Name of the Rose before my second. It’s hard for me to imagine disappearing into a book like that with a wife or a kid or even a dog in the house.*
Yesterday I scoured my bookshelves, both in the living room and in the basement, looking for a specific book. Of course, it was in neither place, and I eventually found it in the stack of books on the floor next to my bed. The book was David Suzuki’s Sacred Balance, although the title of the book and the purpose for my search are irrelevant to the point I want to make. While looking for the book, I was struck by the number of unread non-fiction books in my possession. When I read popular fiction, one reading is usually enough, so I get those books from the library. With non-fiction books, I tend to write in the margins, so I often get those books from a bookstore or through Alibris. Sometimes I even start a non-fiction book that I checked out from the library, only to stop midway and buy a copy so I can write in it. After I finish Pollan and Mosley (both library books), my next book should be one of the volumes from my own collection. I bought each of those unread books for a reason – the reasons long forgotten – but then didn’t read it. Maybe the time was not right, and now it is.
*After I wrote this blog, I remembered that Bernard Malamud’s The Natural had the same effect on me. An assigned reading for my college freshman English lit class, we had two weeks to read the novel. I finished it in two days.