A Life in Shelves, A History Boy, 16/01/2015

I’ve been packing up a lot of my books over the last week, as we prepare to move to Toronto at the end of the month. It’ll be easier this time, even though we’re moving to an entirely different city and last year we were moving across the street. We actually acted like reasonable adults with real jobs and responsibilities and hired a moving company from Brampton. Reviews will follow.

Not only is this very much a new beginning for me, with the bright new town of Toronto laid before me, a vibrant and promising while also risky and extremely unknown new career to start, and all the other stereotypical bullcrap phrases and clichéd descriptions of looking optimistically toward the future that I could barely allow myself to type even in a sarcastic context. I’m also thinking a lot about my past, and how that’s taken me here.

And the part of the deep and nuanced reflection on my own idiosyncratic history that’s led me to this delicate point of regeneration is that I’m noting what books I want to re-read. That’s all I’m going to talk about this post.

I think that if I'd studied more sociology in courses,
I would have had more casual encounters with
Bourdieu, but I don't know how effective a casual
encounter alone would be.
I have a Pierre Bourdieu book that I bought a couple of years ago, but that I never got around to finishing. Pascalian Meditations was one of his last books, and a summation of many of the deeper philosophical influences and ideas that underlay his straightforwardly sociological studies. I actually find his dense writing style quite fascinating, and his ideas about society and human nature converge a lot with my own, but from very different perspectives and priorities.

I packed up Soul Mountain the other day, Gao Xingjian’s masterpiece. Inspired by his own solitary walks through the interior of China, existentially renewing himself after a mistaken cancer diagnosis, a victim of the purges of the Cultural Revolution. Gao writes the story of a man whose own subjecthood tears itself apart as a beautiful drama of mental mirrors. I’ve been meaning to re-read this for so long. It’s been almost a decade. 

There’s a massive Oscar Wilde collection that I’ve had with me ever since I moved out of my mother’s house, but I haven't cracked it open since I lived there. And a biography of Japanese Emperor Hirohito that I once bought for $2. And an old copy of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. One of those antique softcovers small enough to fit in your pants or purse pocket.

As two good friends moved at different points over the last few years, one to Toronto and one to Chicago (who has since moved to Toronto), they each gave me a couple of different books by Jürgen Habermas. Apart from a few essays scattered here and there around courses and reading groups, I’ve never just sat down for a while and read Habermas. 

Because our apartment will be bigger than this one, I’m eventually going to get more bookshelves. So I’ll need more books, of course. I want finally to complete my collection of Douglas Adams fiction with the second Dirk Gently book and The Salmon of Doubt, the blend of Gently and Hitchhikers that was unfinished at his death. And Gareth Roberts’ adaptation of Adams’ old Doctor Who story Shada. I’d listened to the audio reconstruction with Paul McGann and it still holds up. Roberts is in a lot of ways an artistic child of Adams. 

There are still a few books by Gilles Deleuze that I don’t have. I want the Francis Bacon (the artist) book, the Clinical and Critical (or is it the other way around) essay collection, his book on Foucault. And when I’m making more money, hard copies of my favourite ebooks: Rosi Braidotti’s The PostHuman, anything by Clarice Lispector, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (if only to shake my fist at it in the morning), Ralph Ellison. Definitely more J. G. Ballard. 

I like to read long, difficult, ambitious books. So what?
And to start reading the Jewish traditions as well. I want to start with Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, because those were favourite authors of my old friend Arnold. Then more hardcore theology and philosophy. Along with more Emmanuel Levinas, who Arnold always said was more deeply influenced by Jewish ethical philosophy than official academic consensus would ever say.

I also want to slowly complete my Thomas Pynchon. I bought Against the Day first, because I’m a crazy person, and McMaster’s bookstore was selling it for only $6.50 in a 2008 clearance. Two years ago, I read Gravity’s Rainbow because if not now, when? And I’ve started Inherent Vice because the movie is out, and I’d like to absorb both concurrently. Maybe I’ll get Bleeding Edge next. Vineland and The Crying of Lot 49 after that. Then V because his first one isn’t really supposed to be his greatest or anything. Last would be Mason and Dixon, because it’s supposed to be the maddest, and I want to build my anticipation as long as possible.

I’m in it for the long game.

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