For a special section that will tout the National Book Festival next month, the Washington Post has invited authors who are speaking at the festival (including moi!) to write a piece about “what book is most dog-eared in your library — and why.”
Though I was eager to use this opportunity to write for a wide audience, the assignment was a tricky one for me. I don’t, you see, like to reread books. As a boy, I reread books. I read John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage a half-dozen times only to discover in recent years from my own research for Impeached, and from Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption, that Kennedy’s book is filled with errors and, well, lies.
So what could I write for the Post? I considered featuring my cherished 1990 set of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. That might cloak me with a rosy glow of learning and promote an admirable yet dying institution. (The death of the print edition of the Brittanica seems a bit like the farewell tours of aging rock stars; something to be repeated over and over. The current Brittanica website claims they have fewer 100 remaining sets of the “final print version.” Right. Until they print more.)
There were two problems with writing about the Brittanica. First, I don’t actually look at it any more. When I have a factual question, it usually arises while I am sitting at the computer, so it is extremely easy to pose my question to Mr. Google; I don’t even have to stand up. Second, when I consulted the Woman with whom I have lived for nearly forty years, she advised that I would not be cloaked with a rosy glow of learning so much as garbed in the trappings of a superannuated dweeb.
Out went the Brittanica.
I have re-read James Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention a couple of times, but that was really for work, since I keep writing books that involve either Madison or the Constitution. I don’t reread Madison’s Notes for the intrinsic pleasure of the experience. Not to mention the superannuated dweeb issue, supra.
I did try to re-read War and Peace a couple of years ago but fagged out around page 1100. It’s very good, of course, but as I slogged along I could feel the aging process overtaking me. And picking War and Peace for this purpose would be off the charts on the Pretentious Scale.
There’s Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, which I often recommend when people ask what book they might read next. EVERYONE reports loving the book (except, actually, the aforesaid Woman with whom, which still puzzles me). But I’ve never reread the sci-fi classic, or even been tempted to. I know how it turns out.
I finally came up with a book I have reread a couple of times and could write enthusiastically about; and it’s even rather short! (That last point might explain why I have reread it.) I suppose I’m honor-bound not to reveal the book until the Post either runs my piece or rejects it. If they don’t run my piece, I’ll post it here.
But what about you? Do you have a dog-eared volume on the shelf that you pull down every now and then?