I am an addict. Yes, it’s true. If I don’t have something to read I get tense, anxious, irritable. I pace the floors; I search the shelves; I wrack my brains for ideas on what I should start next. The thing is: not just anything can satisfy this hunger. It has to be the right thing at the right time. Normally I plan my reading out months in advance to avoid coming up short. This time, however, I miscalculated. I have unread books at home that I could begin, but I received a notice that a couple of books I have been eagerly awaiting were in transit to my local library, so I didn’t want to start another big reading project before I tackled these. I reserved them three months ago; I didn’t want to pass them up. It’s easy when you’re affluent and can afford to buy books; you just order them and two days later Amazon delivers them to your doorstep. But for some time now books have been beyond my budget and I have had to rely more than usual on the local library. So…
I get the notice that the books are on the way and I am all excited and anxiously await them. But what the hell? Days pass and more days, and the books remain in transit. I go to the library and ask the librarian, and he explains that some transit items take a week or so to arrive. In the meantime, I have finished the previous book and I am in the hell of reading withdrawal.
I usually take reading time when I’m resting in the afternoon and when I’m sitting on the throne in the bathroom. When I don’t have a book to read I practically develop constipation in frustration. I don’t want to go into the bathroom and just sit there doing nothing.
I try to grab random items around the house to temporarily alleviate the pain. It won’t be the same as diving into a whole book, but it’s better than going cold turkey.
First I pick up a recent copy of Rolling Stone magazine, to which one of my sons has a subscription. It used to be a great periodical, forever immortalized in the song “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.” Alas, it has diminished considerably, both in size and importance. It’s gone the way of all commerce, sad to say. It takes me no more than about twenty minutes to find and devour all the salient material.
What next? On the shelf next to my bed I find a copy of Orbit 11 that I picked up at this year’s Norwescon science fiction convention. The Orbit anthology series was the premier outlet for literary speculative fiction back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When I was just starting out in the field, it would have been among my highest achievements to be able to sell Damon Knight a story for the series. Many Hugo and Nebula awards were won by stories therein. Number 11, unfortunately, is not one of the stronger volumes. Although there are a number of writers I admire represented, there are none of their stellar performances. I read a half dozen or so of the shorter stories and discover that most of them have not aged well; though they may have been cutting edge back in the day, they would be considered bland or cliché according to today’s standards. Why? Because modern science fiction evolved from these roots and since these stories were published the themes have been gone over many times.
Back to the shelves. Next I pick up an old Pyramid paperback of Harlan Ellison’s book of television criticism The Other Glass Teat – a sequel, of course, to the groundbreaking first volume appropriately called The Glass Teat. I get a feeling of nostalgia as I read this vintage Ellison, but I find myself more skimming than reading. The subject matter is shows that have long vanished from American television sets and memories. Ellison was one of my germinal influences and first teachers (at Clarion West 1973) when I was starting out as a young writer, and at one time I collected everything I could find of his work.
Anyway, picking up these volumes and nibbling at them is not the same as devouring a full book cover to cover. That’s what I usually do, and that’s what I have been looking forward to resuming. I hope those library books arrive by tomorrow or I don’t know what I will do – the library is closing for two days for the Christmas holidays. I’m a reading addict, and I have to have my fix.
I’ve always enjoyed reading, ever since I learned to read. Some of the great events of my life were discoveries of books: The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, On the Road, Walden, Tropic of Cancer. Reading feeds my spirit just as food feeds my body. When I finally get my hands on those books I’m going to pounce on them like a starving wolf in the wilderness.
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Update: one of the books arrived and I managed to snag it from the library before it closed for the holidays. Saved!