Life is short. Maybe Frank Buckles wouldn't have said that. Mr. Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, died over the weekend (I'm writing this on March 1) at the age of 110. This leaves only two living veterans of the Great War: Florence Green, of King's Lynn, England, who turned 110 on February 19, and Claude Choules, of Perth, Australia, who will be 110 two days from now, on March 3. I don't know if Ms. Green and Mr. Choules feel that life is short.
I do know this, however: If you're an enthusiastic reader--like everyone who works at the Wellesley Booksmith and like so many of you, our customers--it's not unusual to be plagued by a nagging feeling that life is way too short to read all the books you'd like to read. Or even a respectable (whatever that means) percentage of all the books you'd like to read. So many books, and, even if you happen to be Frank Buckles, Florence Green, or Claude Choules, so little time.
I bring this up because from time to time I hear some of you say things like, "I'm ashamed to say I've never read The Iliad," or "I really need to read Faulkner," or "I've never read a Shakespeare play. Isn't that terrible?"
Yikes. Stop beating yourselves up. Throughout our lives, we get enough stuff dumped on us that we simply have to read. For school (don't get me started on the odious subject of required summer reading), for work, in order to figure out how to do something (don't you just love manuals?), maybe to placate a spouse or a colleague, etc. etc. So when it comes to leisure time reading or pleasure reading or whatever you want to call it, let's not get all New England Puritan, OK?
I'm not saying that it's bad to have goals or aspirations or targets in one's leisure reading. I'd really like to read Ralph Manheim's translation of the complete fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Someday. And the first volume of Norman Davies's history of Poland. Someday. And Alan Jones's translation of the Qur'an. Someday. But if I don't ever get around to these texts, I hope that I won't (on my deathbed, say) declare my life to have been an abject failure as a result. There may be some other things that I won't be especially thrilled about (if we're talking sins of omission) when that (faraway, I hope) time comes, but not having read X, Y, or Z probably won't be one of them. I think.