More reading

I have been unable to finish a book in one sitting for some time now. A part of the problem is that the books are getting longer and more complex. You can’t read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall after dinner. A chapter of Gibbon is quite a bit to digest. If I finish Vol. I by July I’ll be fortunate. I have manged to read the ‘Christian’ chapters, 25 and 26, which form the end of the first volume of the three-volume set I’m working through, as they contained much of what I am interested in; regardless, I am hooked on his crazy footnotes, so I’ll obsessively read it all eventually. The matter is interesting of itself but the sentence rhythm is a joy to behold; it’s the reason I read all of Patrick O’Brian in a matter of months.

Watson and Hauser’s A History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol I is also being stubborn, and as compact as my chair’s copy of Henry Shires’ Finding the Old Testament in the New is, it requires extremely close reading, with a copy of the Greek text and the NRSV on hand to understand his conclusions. I’m favoring the stuff I need for the dissertation first – then I’ll hit the Greeks and Romans, then the composition theory last, I think (a gross oversimplification, it is, to divide what I need to know into only three groups, but that’s how the questions will come in the exams).

Desk copies of much of the historical stuff really helps. It’s one thing to look up Josephus online to settle some point and another to have the text on hand, with the ability to mark up the margins, insert bookmarks, and feel in control of what I’m reading. I like the combination – read in book form but have Google, Wikipedia, library resources on hand to look up unfamiliar things as they come up, rather than have everything online. I can’t read anything but the shortest journal articles online – JSTOR is great but I have to print them out. I kind of prefer hunting them down in the library anyway – as I often read very old, very obscure stuff, it lends a sense of history that reading text from a database simply does not give off.

Also, I like how old books smell. They don’t all smell good – some creaky tomes stink like their last reader died on p. 1 – and often they are tragically water-damaged or abused – but some emit an distinct and pleasant aroma of assured scholarship, as if they can collect the auras of their authors and those that read them and convey it through olfactory means.

I have succeeded in cleaning out the file cabinets in my office and making a large pile of required exam readings about the size and weight of my car’s engine. Looking at it cheers me until I remember it doesn’t include the books.

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