Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Overdue books

Yesterday I completely forgot to bring a book with me to read on the commute. I suppose I should take some pride and/or solace in the fact that I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve made that mistake, and I’m going on four years now of the Mass Transit High-Volume Reading Initiative. But it still bugs me every time it happens.

This time around it really wasn’t that surprising. I finished a book on Friday, through a combination of semi-conscious planning and weird happenstance. I had taken the VRE and planned to watch a couple of episodes of Smallville, one in each direction, which works out well since the episodes are 40-some minutes long and the one-way railtime is about 50-some minutes. I also brought the book I was reading because it’s a little easier to read while standing on a train platform than to balance a portable DVD player while doing the same. Then my train home ended up getting delayed by a good twenty minutes or so because high winds had knocked a tree onto the tracks which had to be cleared away, and that extra travel time ended up being all I needed to finish the book.

I put the book away on a shelf after I got home but didn’t immediately replace it in my workbag, which was clearly my fatal misstep. It wasn’t totally due to negligence or absent-mindedness, though. I had a vague notion that selecting my next bit of reading material was going to be tricky (almost as if I have a tendency to overcomplicate really straightforward and trivial life decisions). The complication in this instance was that I had pre-ordered a book from Amazon (at 40% off using a gift card that was earned with credit card rewards points, he said so as not to feel guilty about frivolous spending) with a delivery-upon-release-date scheduled for March 1. And I knew as soon as the book arrived I would want to start reading it straightaway, or the closest thing to that, which would be the Wednesday morning commute.

Happiness in hand ... until I finish it and it's back to a long wait for volume 3 ...
The book in question is The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss which I know isn’t exactly a household name but if you were paying attention last summer when I talked about all the various series and trilogies I’m in the middle of reading you might have noticed I led off with The Kingkiller Chronicles as I bemoaned the fact that said fantasy series was still in the process of being written and I was eagerly anticipating the forthcoming sequel to volume 1. Well, at long last, volume 2 is here (or presumably will be on my front doorstep when I get home tonight). I’ve been waiting for The Wise Man’s Fear to come out since August of 2007, when I read The Name of the Wind, so clearly I will need to devour it immediately. But going back to last Friday, I also needed to find something to read on Monday and Tuesday which would either be quickly started and completed in two days, or else be something I wouldn’t mind setting aside and picking up again later to allow for the Wise Man’s Fear interruption.

I briefly thought that perhaps I would bring Stephen King’s Needful Things on the commute for a couple of days so that I could finally polish it off. I started reading that novel back in October (or re-reading it, after getting a couple hundred pages in when it was published back in the early 90’s but giving up on it due to slight King burnout) specifically designating it a “read when I have a few minutes of downtime around the house” book rather than a “pass time on the commute” book. Usually it’s ne’er-the-twain-shall-meet as far as I’m concerned with house-books versus Metro-bus-VRE-books, because I’m meticulously compartmentalized like that. Still, after almost five months of leisurely consumption I was ready to be done with Needful Things (in several senses, it’s … really not one of King’s best) so that could have worked out well, but it actually turned out that I had just enough free time over the course of the weekend to finish it at home, and so I did.

I also went to the used bookstore on Saturday, partly as an excuse to get the little guy out of the house for a bit and partly because there were still a couple of boxes of books marked To Be Sold in the garage, lo these fourteen months after we’ve packed up and moved and unpacked. The store was willing to offer trade value for most of the stuff I brought in, and funny enough they had multiple copies of Stephen King’s latest in hardcover at about 50% off the cover price. And this latest, Full Dark No Stars, is a collection of novellas, which is just about perfect for my purposes: I could read one or two novellas over the course of Monday and Tuesday, then hit the Rothfuss as of Wednesday, and then get back to the other King novellas after that. In addition I picked up a few paperbacks of some literary classics that are on my Resolutions list to read this year (Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, Frankenstein) and the little guy even picked out a few new books for himself (which, with very little guidance from me, turned out to be two Bob the Builder books and another starring a John Deere promotional character named Barney Backhoe; since Saturday I have now read each of those books approximately twelve thousand times). All well and good.

But, see, I’m jumbling the timeline a bit here, because I bought Full Dark No Stars on Saturday but didn’t finish Needful Things until Sunday, so there was a delay in the decision-making as to which Stephen King book I would be reading on Monday, and between wrangling the little guy while his mother was at work over the weekend and then devoting as much time toward quality togetherness as possible once she was home, the time tripped on by and next thing I know it’s pre-dawn Monday morning and I’m heading for the Metro turnstiles and saying, “Aw, shoot.”

I tried to get back on track (as it were) today but while I remembered to throw Full Dark No Stars in my bag, the first novella in the book is 133 pages long, and that’s about twice as much as I can read in a single roundtrip day on the Metro. Which kind of augments the frustration, because it really would have been perfect for Monday and Tuesday combined if I had remembered it yesterday. Again, assuming the book I want to read tomorrow really was delivered today, I no doubt will tear into it in the morning, and either I’ll somehow sneak the time to finish that first novella tonight or I’ll leave it unfinished for a couple of weeks. Not the end of the world, but as well all know by now, these are the maddening pathways my mind meanders along fairly regularly.

To say nothing of the fact that I had intended to read one literary classic per month to get in 12 for the year, and here it is March and I’m choosing between King and Rothfuss while the only canonized novel I’ve knocked out so far is Don Quixote, so I’m already behind on that score too … ah but the year is young. And paternity leave is coming!

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