We are all on an island. Every land mass on Earth is ultimately surrounded by water. And anyway, the whole thing is a rock hurtling through space — so metaphorically the planet is an island. Does this make you feel better about the really cold air outside? Maybe no. Will it make you any happier to know that I am actually, literally in Hawaii right now? Mostly likely no again. So I won’t tell you.
I will tell you that I have never been to Hawaii before, ever, but have dreamed about it since watching Elvis cavort on its beaches and guys in cheesy suits solve crimes in front of surfers. It conjures up Mr. Roark and not The White Lotus (well, okay, also very much The White Lotus.)
When I go away, I bring books (not e-books, not all the other stuff and I know the value of them, I just don’t bring them so please don’t tell me how many more you can carry than me, or how the sun won’t glare off your screen or any of that stuff. I know.)
Me, I bring paper. And one thing that I realized while packing for this trip I’m not telling you I’m on was that when I go on vacation, I really like to have worn-copies of books. The pliable pages, the already-reticulated cover incapable of being ruined by fingerprints of sand or sunscreen or the water ring of a pina-colada and if the pineapple happens to drip, it’s no big deal, just one more odd stain showing that someone loved this book.
(I know you’re curious: I’m reading the next NK Jamieson after the newest Gary Shteyngart.)
I probably developed this love of having used books on vacation because of the amazing take-a-book, leave-a-book shelves in the Youth Hostels of Europe, which is really where I was bitten by the travel bug (uh, wow, Covid has made me quite leery of this once-useful cliche)… in any event, I still love checking out those impromptu little libraries wherever I see them, and I always feel sad if I don’t have something to leave there (thanks to bringing library books for example).
But they’re so soft! So traveled. So loved.
Book exchange shelves in travel hubs are living proof that the entire world is full of strangers that are basically good. (Or perhaps villains that like to read.) There is an open generosity in passing on a book to another person, and an openness to picking up a book that has been left by a stranger.
Have you ever found a note written in any of these pages? I have not - and yet I feel connected by gratitude to the reader who left their finished book for me to read.
Found in Translation:
Thanks to everyone who sent in their official translation of the Japanese new year’s card. Here’s the one that I think is probably what my friend intended: "Please accept my regards to you this year as well."
What have we learned? The world is a cool place, but has many opportunities for miscommunication.
(This video has FIFTEEN MILLION views and I had never heard of the song, the artist, or any of it. Not even her name was familiar to me. See? you can have a massive social media following and still be completely unknown.)
The fun article I wrote about my name was picked up by nameberry.com and will appear on the homepage of that website as the featured content on Monday January 24th. It will stay up until the 25th. So if you happen to click this link on one of those two days, you’ll get to see me playing with the big boys!
And this morning I wrote this for Medium about getting a wristband to speed your journey into Hawaii. Read if you plan to travel to Hawaii soon! Here’s the link.
I used to hope to read the whole library.
Then I hoped to read all the fiction.
Then I hoped to read all the books by all of my favorite authors.
Then I hoped to read all the books written by my friends.
Then I wanted to read all the books in the pile on my desk.
Now I just want to stop thinking about “how many” and make time to read.
So here I am… it’s finally light enough on this balcony overlooking the volcano on one side and the ocean on the other to pick up a book and lose myself to another world.
However, I just found out that private beaches are not allowed on Hawaii. So maybe I’ll try to circumnavigate the island on foot. Ha!
After seeing that translation, I can see how the screen reader had such a tough time. At bottom, it seems idiomatic. It is coherent, but one probably wouldn't think to say it in English. I will say that some of my written pleasantries can take on a similar character. I am uncomfortable with the whole form. When I demand literal sense from our normal well wishes, I am unsatisfied, so I add one qualifier and then another. Soon I am left with something that sounds wooden and devoid of the effusiveness that is supposed to accompany personal regards.
I do wonder at the context likely to produce, "Please accept my regards to you this year as well." Specifically, about the "as well." It seems to imply that the card is in response to another, or that it's a renewal a bit along the lines of a yearly magazine subscription.
I related to the Endpaper idea. I am stingy about what I read. Given the necessity of only getting to the tip of the iceberg of literature, I feel I am bestowing a great honor on the authors I read. For writers, this reality must be depressing. How can they hope to be read, if there is a discriminating public? You might have something of the problem we have with a few people having most of the money, with the inequality that is so much discussed. And this is where diversity of taste, where quirkiness and whimsicality are very much needed. If we all just read a school curriculum, so to speak, even if the number of books was expanded many fold, we would kill off authors. But I try not to sacrifice quality, or at least the speciality of my experience, as a consequence of expanding my range.
Number three on the list was reading all books by a favorite author. Just as the progression in Endpaper suggests, I have relented on this some as I have read more. I had read maybe seven Dickens' novels and been enthralled by five or six. I disproportionately sampled his earlier works. I resolved to eventually get back to his whole oeuvre, reading them in order, but before I knew it, about eight years had gone by. I finally returned and did not have good experiences with Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit. Hedonist that I am, contrary to critical opinion, I think I like the satirical, earlier Dickens best. But those books mean so much to me, it's hard not to plow on with the whole oeuvre. And I wonder if one religious experience with a Dickens novel wouldn't be worth five restless ones? So I don't think I'm going to give up the plan.
I am also partial to being a completist because I hate relying on conventional opinions for the best or most worthwhile books of an author. It's antithetical to my creed of independent judgment. Truthfully, too, I dislike even reading reviews that give away too much of what a book is about, or what I am supposed to take from it, before I read it. When I do those kinds of forays, I like to do them enough in advance that I've forgotten them by the time I read the book. So it almost seems easier to just read everything by an author.
Another belief I have is that an author is in every book he or she writes. I don't know how you can like an author, and not like one of her books. Writing is personal. I don't know that authors and works can be divorced. So the idea of liking one book by an author and not another is in a way strange. Although I suppose we like some things about our friends and not others. Or like them at different times of our lives but not others. But if you don't like something I write, yes, I take it personally!