Numbers Game

I’m torn on setting a number as my reading goal for 2020. Which isn’t to ding the people who do set a number as their goal. Anything that gets people reading anything is good in my books.

Set yourself the goal of reading 100 books and make all of them graphic novels? Great.

Read one book, but it’s In Search of Lost Time? Great.

Try to read all the books you managed to not read during your English Lit degree? Great.

My reading goal this year is to get through the pile on top of the bookshelf on our 2nd floor landing. It’s a mix of books: those I’ve bought in the last couple years because they looked interesting when I was feeling flush; a few from my collection I’d like to re-read; books my partner has read and thought I’d like; a couple loaners.

It’s maybe 20, maybe two dozen books. I read 100 books last year, so that pile should go pretty fast, right?

Not so much.

So far, what I’m finding is that if I’ve read a bit of a book and put it in the pile, I’ve put it in the pile because it’s slow going for whatever reason.

It means that so far, I’ve only picked two books off that pile. The first, Tommy Pico’s book-length poem Junk, was really good, though I didn’t find it as quickly engaging as Nature Poem, which I read last year. Still, Teebs is a great character, and each time I picked it up it was easier to roll into.

The second I just finished last night, and my god, I hauled myself through it. Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1878-1984 might have read better in 2005. Though that’s really giving him the benefit of the doubt. It’s racist. Mostly in that insidious way that’s more difficult to call out.* Great swaths of British postpunk bands steal heavily from reggae, lover’s rock, and dub, from disco and funk. Which is to say, from Black music. Reynolds lets the postpunk musicians speak for themselves, quotes them humble-bragging in interviews from the time about how they were only white person at reggae nights in London, but how they never felt unsafe even though. And Reyolds never puts any 2005 context around any of these comments from the late 70s and early 80s. I’d say he doesn’t talk about race, except he does, here and there; he just doesn’t think very deeply about it.

I care less about a genealogy of who played in which bands with what kind of guitar sounds than where those sounds came from, how they were used, and what that means culturally. I wish someone would write that book about that scene.

But I digress, at least a bit. It took me weeks to read that book, two or three. Many times, I thought to just put it down and give it up as DNF. But by the time the racism really came out as a pattern and I gave up on him addressing it, I’d already put a lot of effort into the book.

So I may need to be more generous with myself and less disciplined with my goal. I should have tossed Rip It Up over about half-way through. No one’s going to give me a prize for finishing that racist book.** No one cares if I actually finish the books on my landing or just quietly re-shelve them.

More generous, sure, but maybe more mindful would be better way of saying that. To keep in mind: Why am I reading this?

It took me a long time to read Junk too, because it’s written in stream-of-consciousness couplets dripping grief and dissociation. But I’m glad I pushed through that, and I’d do it again. In the end it challenged me in a good way, pushed my boundaries and my thoughts on love, loss and language, instead of just adding a bunch of names and dates to my already detail-saturated brain. And that’s an experience worth taking time for.

*Though not only, like the gem where he says that “Eskimos” kill unwanted girl children and are always putting old people out on ice floes to die. I mean, I know 2005 was a long time ago now, but come the fuck on.

**Also kind of sexist. Some of that is hard to help, since he’s describing a scene that has few women in it because sexism, but also, why in the hell did he start referring to women in the scene as “punkettes” in the last few chapters? Please, you’re kidding me, right. Right?

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