Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pages and pages and pages . . .

{Photos by rocketlass.}

In the preface to the Wessex edition of Thomas Hardy's works, a definitive collection published in 1912, when Hardy had long since turned from novel-writing to poetry, Hardy wrote,
The more written, the more seems to remain to be written; and the night cometh.
Why isn't that a well-known line? A Google search only turns up two instances of it online aside from this post and my Twitter feed. Sure, it's a bit overwrought--it wouldn't quite be Hardy if it weren't--but it expresses an agony that seems to afflict many writers, who realize to their frustration that with each year and each work, they know more and have more to say. I'm far more of a reader than a writer, but I think a reader feels it no less: there's always so much unread, let alone all that deserves to be read again, and with each passing day there's less time available to us.

That's true of all life's pursuits, of course. But reading seems particularly susceptible to that sense of Sisyphean challenge: we have only so much time in life to make friends, too--but our unmade friends don't loom over us, neatly ordered on shelves, when we settle in with a novel each night. And once our attention is drawn to the unread books on our shelves, it can't help but move on to the unread books beyond them, the ones they drew on, the ones they influenced, the ones they scorned and wrote against.

Perhaps it was the arrival of autumn darkening my thoughts, but when I came across Hardy's lament last weekend, I had been beginning to feel a bit oppressed by the stacks of unread books, many of which I desperately wanted to read right that moment. Hardy's lines crystallized that feeling, while shading it with his typical fatalistic tints.

So perhaps it's only right that a different book, newly added to the stack, should instantly invite me to take a more optimistic view. In his Journal, Jules Renard writes,
When I think of all the books still left for me to read, I am certain of further happiness.
Until a few days ago, when A Journey Round My Skull recommended him, I had never read Renard, but I can already tell he's going to be a favorite. Being reminded of that fact alone--that the universe of unread books might still offer us new favorites--is enough to shake this reader out of autumnal Hardyean gloom for at least a few days.

1 comment:

  1. OK, what you said about unmade friends not looming over us is my absolute favorite quote of the day. Of course, you didn't have much competition, but still.

    I alternate between the two extremes constantly -- sometimes all the unread books on my shelves taunt me because I'm obviously not going to live long enough to read them all, sometimes they're like a warm promise, kind of an inanimate come-hither. Probably a good indicator of my mood at any given moment.