Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wasting Time in Old Age

In this increasingly digital age my wife and I share a physical library of books that many would find intimidating. It is the sort of collection that prompts a first-time visitor to ask the inevitable stupid question:
Have you read them all?
I try to dismiss that question without answering it. People who do not take their reading seriously do not realize that a book is a resource that involves more than reading it cover-to-cover.

Nevertheless, one of the side-effects of growing older is the recognition that there are books in that collection that may never received the dignity of even a considered sampling before I die. This has not made more frantic about my pace of reading, but it has led to my being quicker to reject anything that might be a waste of time. I was thus struck by a comment in the poet Charles Simic's latest post to NYRBlog about his old age (which surpasses my own by about a decade):
Still, I can’t deny that in the thirty years since we had these conversations, I’ve grown progressively more exasperated about our species and foresee a day when I will no longer be able to bring myself to read newspapers and watch television out of concern for my mental health. Already I have to ration myself. I give Tom Friedman sixty seconds; George Will thirty.
The truth is that I do not dignify either of those guys with any of my time. In fact, where The New York Times is concerned, I keep my RSS feeds restricted to arts news and very rarely read anything there unless it has a direct impact on my own writing. Apparently that business about "fit to print" is no longer a valid motto at the Times; and there is no reason for me to waste my time on sloppy wordsmithing that ultimately has nothing to say. (By the same count I am very close to deleting my feed to Andrew Ross' The Rest Is Noise blog, since it has been some time since I have encountered any signal there.)

On the other hand there are some rather long books for which I would still like to try to devote time. Getting through all five volumes of H. C. Robbins Landon's Haydn: Chronicle and Works is probably out of the question (although it is a major reference whenever I need to write about Joseph Haydn); but I still think that Thayer's biography of Ludwig van Beethoven deserves a serious cover-to-cover reading. It would seem fair, given the time I put into Robin D. G. Kelley's monumental biography of Thelonious Monk!

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