Currently Reading

I have begun reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson (which you may have noticed over in the “currently reading” section of the sidebar — I feel conflicted over those book lists, the “Currently Reading” one and the “Books Read” one because they feel so pooterish, but I like looking at other people’s lists and figured you might like to look at mine; they do give a quick way of judging if one’s reading tastes match those of the blogger). I tried to read this book a few years ago and got to page 340 out of the 1243 pages in my edition. I don’t remember what made me stop, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it; it must have been that I got caught up in a busy semester or something and never returned to it.

Now that I think about it, this could possibly happen again, as I’m heading into what will probably be a busy semester, but I’m planning to finish this time — and I do enjoy the experience of reading it, don’t get me wrong. I want to know more about Johnson and also about Boswell; he’s got such a lively, energetic voice and his London journal, which I read a few years ago, was quite entertaining. I’m expecting to take a few months to make it through the entire Life of Johnson, but that’s okay; it’ll be a long-term project like Proust is. And I have another long book I want to read, Don Quixote, which I hope to get to this summer, so we’ll see if I can finish the Boswell by the beginning of summer or so. We’ll see.

Here are a couple passages about Johnson and reading; this first one is about his schooling:

He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?

And another on his reading habits:

… we may be absolutely certain, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject once observed to me, that “Johnson knew more books than any man alive.” He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end. He had, from the irritability of his constitution, at all times, an impatience and hurry when he either read or wrote. A certain apprehension arising from novelty, made him write his first exercise at College twice over; but he never took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion.


Filed under Books, Nonfiction, Reading

14 responses to “Currently Reading

  1. Those are great quotes–especially the first. I think this would be interesting to get a glimpse into another time period! I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a long term read, especially one as long as this! As for book lists, I personally like seeing what others are reading and have read. This always gets me into trouble when I visit blogs directly rather than read posts through bloglines–I get so interested in all the information in the sidebars. I hope you continue to keep your lists there!


  2. Brandon

    I’ll probably put a list of 2007 reads somewhere on my blog, but not until I’ve read at least five books this year. Why five? I have no idea. I’m up to three so far, but that might be where it stays for a while. I’m going to start Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” soon. I had to take “The Known World” back to the library, which is what happened the last time I checked it out. I’m going to finish that book! Someday…


  3. I definitely look at people’s reading lists to see if they have similar interests. There are so many blogs–one has to prioritize!

    That first quote is great, though I wonder if it’s really true in all cases. Some books might be worth spending a lifetime studying because they can unlock so much of the world. Perhaps there is some relationship between the depth of a book and the “width” of knowledge and understanding it gives. It’s like what they say about wells–you can dig one deep one or a hundred shallow ones. I dunno…


  4. Please keep the lists! If a blog has them I immediately scan them for precisely the reason you mention: do our tastes coincide?

    As for Boswell, have you thought about an abridged version? Normally I am a total purist and avoid them but I’m currently reading the Penguin Boswell (384 pages) and very much enjoying it (though I’m not sure I would wish it any longer…)!


  5. Cam

    I like the lists too. I took down my 2006 Books Read list, but have no 2007 list yet because I haven’t finished even one book, although I’ve started several.


  6. Reading lists are wonderful! Essential, even! I love scanning what people are reading or have read, and comparing their literary velocity with my own. Some people’s long and varied lists just blow me away. πŸ™‚

    “The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?”

    I like this idea of free-range readers. πŸ™‚ We eclectic (or: unfocused) bibliophiles, who read anything and everything that comes our way, must taste like the very best organic, free-range, reared-on-apples-and-sweet-grass pork. Yum. πŸ™‚


  7. I like that first quote too and I think Victoria gets a prize for coming up with free-range readers! πŸ™‚ I hope to undertake Life of Johnson one of these days but I have so many chunky books on my 2007 reading horizon it won’t be this year. I like your side bar lists too. Helps me when I’m trying to remember who read what book.


  8. Huw

    Read Journey to the Hebrides by Boswell and Johnson if you get the chance. Slighter and more entertaining than Life of Johnson it’s worth seeking out.
    Also, if you haven’t read Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, you must!


  9. Oh yes please keep the reading lists. I have thought about doing that but don’t know how to add it yet. I’ll have to work on that πŸ™‚


  10. Do keep reading the Boswell, Dorothy, because it’s the kind of book I KNOW I will never read, but I like to hear about it via you!


  11. Your book lists challenge me, because they always seem so ambitious, and I find myself thinking, “I ought to quit eating all this cotton candy and put a little meat on my plate,” which is probably why I DON’T keep a list of what I’m reading.

    But then again, I don’t want to confine myself in cells and colleges to stated tasks…


  12. LK

    That is yet another classic I would like to read.

    Hope your semester isn’t too crazy, Dorothy.


  13. I enjoy everyone’s books lists as well. Sometimes the “Currently Reading” lists are intimidating. I have never been able to have more than 3 books going at a time, and that is only if one is a novel, the other a book of stories or poetry, and the third a non-ficion book. Stephanie has 10 books in progress right now! It amazes me that anyone can keep it all straight. (And still find the time to regularly write such thoughtful posts.) Someday one of you will have to reveal the secret. Free-range power readers? πŸ™‚


  14. I’m glad you all like the lists — Danielle, I will definitely keep them. I find other people’s lists interesting too. It creates a feeling of accomplishment to watch the list grow. Brandon — it does feel kind of silly to have a short list of books read — I can understand waiting. Sylvia — I agree that some books are worth spending a lot of time on and reading thoroughly and repeatedly — and I don’t read at all like Johnson does, which is part of the reason I found the quotation interesting. I couldn’t stand not finishing things. Sandra — that’s a good idea, but I think I’m committed to the full thing. It’s partly because I have a copy of the entire thing on hand, and partly being a purist, and partly having some pride in what I’ve read from the 18C. But I fully understand the impulse to read an abridgement of this one! I love that image Victoria! Cam — you will finish one soon, I’m sure. And I’ll read your list when you have one! Stefanie — I have a lot of chunky books to read too — I really like long books! Huw, I’ve read Johnson and Boswell’s travel books and I agree that they are quite good. But this means I really must read The Life — no more putting it off. Iliana — I don’t imagine creating such a list is that difficult; I’m sure you can figure it out if you want to! Litlove, I’m sure I’ll have tons of posts on it; actually, I’m hoping it supplies me with lots of blogging material. Emily — nothing wrong with cotton candy! LK, thanks. It probably won’t be crazier than last semester, and I survived that one. Brad, when I read multiple books I make sure only one of them is a novel, or at least a fast, easy-to-read novel (unlike Proust, say).


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