You know that you’re a fanatical book collector when, while going through your library, you stop and do a count and you discover that you own no less than 50 medical books, and you’re not even a medical professional.
Standing under a heater vent blowing 70-degree air on me, I still get goosebumps listening to Ed Sheeran singing “I See Fire” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Removed we may be from the foothills of Erebor, but we never seem far from the breath of the great drake.
For there are days beneath brown hills, Santannas blowing dry from the Northeast bending the palms and sending crackles of static through hair and wool, when if you listen closely, you can hear the chuckle of the Old Wyrm amidst the howling tempest, and your breath stops, waiting in dread for the ridges to explode in flame.
Expanding my reading to include the detective fiction genre after bingeing “Longmire” on Netflix – and heeding Susan Wise Bauer‘s enjoinment to approach a new subject or genre chronologically – I naturally began with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After running through the four novels and five short-story collections composing the Sherlock Holmes canon, I can attest that I am not just hooked, I am downright fired-up.
In addition to a growing stack of books from Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert B. Parker, and Craig Johnson, I am working on an essay about Holmes. There is a lot of pulp out there, but in a genre known rather more for its pot-boiler tendencies than its literary chops, I am finding much to appreciate beyond pure diversion.
That said, next up is a little Jesse Stone, purely for diversion.
Now, where to begin?
Once you get used to Kim Stanley Robinson’s multithreaded neo-Tolstoyian style and push past the first chapter, this is an unforgettable book, one that paints a gloomy picture with a glimmer of light.
I have never been more proud to be the father of a budding environmental scientist, more ashamed of the wasteful aspects of my lifestyle, and more focused on what is important. That’s far more than I had bargained for from this book, but it was worth the almost physical effort to get through such an unrelenting narrative and come out changed.
For is that not what great books are about?
I finished Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library over the weekend, just in time for the book club this week. Non-genre fiction is not normally my thing, but this was recommended by a friend, and it turned out to be a bit more piquant for me than, say, a Jonathan Franzen novel might have. Reading it at a turning point in my life a few weeks after retirement landed the story closer to home, as did some personal history.
Without diving into the dreary details, suffice sot say that I once had cause to speak to someone very dear to me about regrets. They wanted no regrets in life. I opined that there was no such thing as a life without regrets, that we make so many choices each day, and that the hardest choices we have to make are not between good and bad options, but between good and good ones. If we cannot avoid regrets, at least we have the power to choose them. What separates those of us who are crippled by what-ifs from those who are not is the possession of a North Star, a guiding light that allows us to discern which choices bring to us the fulfillment we need (which is too often different from what we think we need in the moment.)
Setting The Midnight Library down with that end-of-book exhale, I realized Haig had taken me, via the life of Nora Seed, to the next step: those of us who have come by our regrets honestly, following our souls rather than our lusts or avarice, may find that our regrets are so much bunkum, either artifacts of of self-doubt, shortsightedness, or a bit of both. Whatever their provenance, regrets are little more than deadweight save for their ability to serve as guardrails for the choices we make going forward. If they can guide us on a better path, great. If not, they serve no useful purpose and should be ejected.
I say this as a man in possession of a suitcase of regrets, so I am overdue to take the medicine Haig seems to prescribe. I’ll take a hard pass on Nora’s path, though. I have decided instead to exorcise my demons via poetry, writing a verse paean to each regret, cherishing it, and tattooing its lesson into my soul before casting it to the winds.
I’m going to make a list of all of the good things about retirement. #1 on that list has to be Never having to ever read another professional self-help article again (e.g., “How to Write More Professional Emails;” “16 Tips to Make Yourself a Better Boss;” “Data Analytics for the Ignorant but Curious;” etc.)
Having your Powell’s Books shopping cart open in two different windows is G-d’s way of saying it’s time to quit goofing around and place the damned order.