Night and Day

How I love the library, and how I love to read. Going to the library takes me back to the first one I ever went to, the Saratoga library in that city in California. For an introverted bookworm, it was heaven: labyrinthine oak shelves to the ceiling bursting with zillions of books. It was there I discovered the section “children’s plays,” there where I first realized there was a form called a script, and probably there as much as our parents’ house, which also had tons of books, that the writer was planted.
In every city I’ve lived in, the library has been one of my primary sources of solace. The Ann Arbor library is one of the best in the country (it’s even better than the Grand Army Plaza Brooklyn library, if only because there are no limits on check-outs; it’s hard to beat the Brooklyn’s ambience), and we as a family tend to have between 80 and 100 books, DVDs, and CDs checked out at any given time. Roughly 10 of those are musical scores for the Eldest to sing when she gets a singing jones; another 20 are books for the Youngest, covering everything from Michigan animals to Jackie Robinson to John Muir to Garfield comics. (I would like to boast about him reading the much classier Tintin books, but he’s read them all at least twice. There are 50 Garfield comic strip anthologies, so alas, he has a way to go.) About 20 are the spouse’s various interests of the moment, and the rest, easily 30 or more at any given time, are mine.
I love surrounding myself with books, and it’s a bit of a problem, but at least I don’t buy them any more. The library lets me indulge in my annoying habit of tackling lists (I love book lists; actually, I love almost any kind of list except a to-do list), and the spouse, ever tolerant, rarely grouses about the pile of books lying open on and near the nightstand.
Right now, I’m going back and forth between 2. The first is The Road to Mecca, an autobiography by Muhammad Asad, who converted from secular Judaism to Islam in the 30s. Asad grew up with the century, and his description of Jerusalem in the late 20s and early 30s is fascinating, as are his insights into Zionism, Christianity, and empire: “The West’s main argument [for its “interventions” across the Middle East and North Africa] is always the political disruption and economic backwardness of the Middle East, and every active Western intervention is sanctimoniously described by its authors as aiming not merely at a protection of ‘legitimate’ Western interests but also at securing progress for the indigenous people themselves.” Having lived as a westerner for the first half of his life, Asad’s insights are unique and nicely observed. I’m only halfway through, so can’t judge if his clear enchantment with Arab peoples and their way of life is a bit over the top, but certainly so far it’s no more than all those writers who wax on for pages and pages about various Mediterranean countries.
I found the book as part of a syllabus from Colgate university in a course on the Middle East; it’s one of a half dozen on the list, which is rounded out by a dozen or so Edward Said essays (necessary in my case as I’ve always been intimidated by the spouse’s weighty Said collections). More later if worth reporting, but I’m learning a lot, not that I’ll ever be able to catch the spouse, but at least I can add a little something to the conversation. (The Middle East is frequently discussed at our house, though it’s mostly me listening given the spouse’s years of study on the subject. One of my favorite jokes he ever told was when he introduced Laura Flanders by saying that before she spoke, he was going to explain the Arab mind in 30 seconds.)
The other book I’m trying to blast through this week is Then We Came to the End, a novel that made lots of year end lists, including, of course, the Times. It’s basically an extended version of The Office, though set in an ad agency, which is naturally easy to relate to. The thing that the writer, Joshua Ferris, does that’s most interesting is keep the entire thing in a faceless first person plural, a nice way of getting at the sort of collective office personality that develops among a group of people who spend the better part of their lives together. I still, when referring to Criterion, say, we did this, we did that; it’s a persona I am loath to let go of. And props to Ferris for making the book very hard to translate onto film, because that point of view is what makes the book so interesting. I find it generally easy to read, though I’m not dying to get back to it and see what happens next. But it’s compelling enough that I’ll bother to finish it.
Anyway, just a little of the flotsam that’s crossing the old transom today.

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