Beyond a doubt, the best thing about being an avid reader of close to seventy years of age is that I never have to worry about finding a book to read anymore. I remember how when I was in my twenties and thirties that my greatest reading-fear was waking up one morning and not having a single unread book at hand. Those were the days when buying even a paperback per week hit the budget a good solid lick. A library was usually within reach, but after working a forty-something-hour-week, I was often too tired to make it there. Thankfully, those days are long gone.
Nowadays, like most people my age who have read for their entire lives, I have my own library, one that includes more unread books than I could possibly read in three or four years of dedicated reading. There are numerous anthologies, short story compilations, novels, and Civil War history books awaiting my attention – not to mention the 91 Library of America volumes on the shelves, each of those including numerous novels and short stories. So I’m set for a while even if worse were to come to worst.
But here’s the real secret: many of my reading friends are roughly the same age as I am, and our wives are constantly at us to clean out some of the books that are stashed all over the house. That means that I seldom visit a reading friend who does not shove three or four “must-read” books at me before I head home. And I’ve learned to return the favor, often carrying a like number of books to their home when visiting so that the exchange comes out relatively even. The good news is that, at least so far, all of our wives see this as a kind of game in which the winning wife is the one whose husband’s book-count drops even for just a week or two. It’s one of those strange win-win things that I hope the ladies never figure out.
Just this month, for instance, I’ve been given pristine hard copies of four of Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlenour novels (a really good series from Iceland); Conspiracy of One (a detailed study of the Kennedy assassination); Witness (the classic Whittaker Chambers book written during the early days of the Cold War); and One Ranger ( a signed copy of Texas Ranger H. Joaquin Jackson’s 2008 autobiography). Now keeping in mind that this is all part of a game of musical chairs played with books, my wife is happy to tell you that we are winning so far this month because way more books have gone out the door than have come in the door (our wives give us a free pass when it comes to library books, thank goodness).
Now if I could just learn to read faster, life would be just about perfect.