Left on the Shelf

It doesn't matter what season of the year it is - new books need to be read immediately after purchase.

Now is the time to sum up the summer, at least from the reading point of view. In the months preceding the summer, the literary supplements of the newspapers provide lists of recommended summer reading. I sometimes wonder if those summer-reading lists work on the same assumption as the one that differentiates between a summer fool and a winter fool: The first's folly is self-evident, the second's emerges only after he takes off his coat.

Anyway (and anytime), the pre-summer literary supplements assume that warm times are not the times in which anyone has the time and attention span to do some serious reading. Therefore, they offer lists of light reading, books to be read and not remembered a minute after the last page.

But heavy readers know that summer and vacations are the times to pay their reading debts and dues. All those books that we were supposed to read when we had some more time and leisure - all those books we have bought on an uncontrollable impulse that makes us say, "This is the book I have to have, now." And now they sit on the shelf, waiting patiently to be read, and in their nice bookish way, they do not even pester us. Only once in a while, they send us an imploring look from the height of their shelves.

And that is why, come summer, I packed some clothes and an impossible number of volumes in my suitcase and proceeded to the nearest airport. Now is the time to read, I said to myself again and again.

When I got there - a beautiful country in western Europe, known for its flatness, a place where your daily excitement is seeing a cow in a meadow, sometimes a sheep - I opened my suitcase. I hung my clothes in a closet, unpacked the books, stood them up on the table next to my bed, looked at the row of books waiting to be read - and went to check out the local bookshops.

One of the advantages of vacationing in the same place year in and year out is that you get to know the local bookshops, and they know you. You go in, straight to the shelves that may have something for you on them. And, lo and behold, they publish many new and exciting books there. So, I came back to my temporary summer home carrying a heavy load of books with me. But I did not pack the newly acquired books in my suitcase, to be schlepped home and to await their turn to be read. I started to read the new books first.

Every new book was perused at length, and one night I found myself reading until three o'clock in the morning. There was nothing urgent there, the book could have waited to be finished until the next morning, but I somehow read on till the end before turning the light off.

And that is how I formulated my personal definition of summer reading. It is: reading the books immediately after purchase. Simply because of the fact that in the summer, on vacation, there is no good reason to postpone the reading to some other (better?) time. What shall I say to the books acquired on vacation, at leisure? When I tell them I'll read them next summer, they will not believe me. Why should they believe me, seeing the unread row of summers past?

I hurried to my spouse and told her, excited, about my new definition of summer reading. She listened to my ramblings with a good-hearted smile and said - with her customary wit and wisdom - that the new definition applies only to me, a totally unbalanced reader, and not to all readers, anywhere or at any time. Having said that, she settled down in her chair and went on to read the books she had just bought.

And what happened to the books that had to be squeezed into a suitcase and were forced to travel uncomfortably to another country, only to be unread again? They were squeezed again into the suitcase, this time with other books, which laid heavily on them, and added to my regular overweight. I strongly suspect that when I was born, a book fairy waved her wand over my cradle, and said, "Thou shall always travel overweight."