Friday, January 25, 2008
Books without end
I'm a big Simon and Garfunkel fan. While I've never seen them perform, or Paul Simon alone, I did get to see Art Garfunkel in concert once, when I was in college, and he has a beautiful voice. But I didn't know that he's also a voracious reader and keeper of lists.
A few times I've tried to keep a list of book I've read or movies I've seen, or things I want to read or see, but I'm not organized or dedicated enough to keep it going. So I just find this kind of astounding. On his web site, Art has a list of every book he's ever read from June 1968 to the end of 2007.
The list numbers more than 1,000 - from The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in June 1968, to Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, at the end of 2007. It comes out to about two books a month. There's nothing for 2008 yet, so I don't know if Art's still compiling the list. I hope so. It would be a shame to stop now.
And wow, Art seems like a pretty serious guy, with very eclectic tastes. (If I had a list, let's just say there would be less Jean-Jacque Rousseau and more John Grisham.) His choices are pretty much all over the place: classic fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, autobiographies, history, philosophy, religion, current events, contemporary titles and works from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
If you don't want to look through all of the titles, Art has helpfully included 135 of his favorites, listed in the order in which they were read. There doesn't seem to be a pattern. The man really does read everything.
Some of his favorites are books I've enjoyed, too: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Hijuelos' The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Doesn't everyone go through a Zen period when they're in college?) and Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. There's one I'd never heard of, but I may have to pick up now: Simon and Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography, by Victoria Kingston. That must be very weird, reading a book about yourself!
On the other hand, Art also reads a lot of books that sat on my shelves unread for years: James Joyce's Ulysses, Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. And there are books I would only read if I were marooned on a desert island, like anything by Tolstoy or Jane Austen. (I do try to watch all the movies, though. Does that count?)
Art's tastes lean toward very serious, highbrow books, but apparently every once in awhile he indulges in something popular, just like the rest of us: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Stephen King's The Shining and Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. He's also read Postcards from the Edge by Paul Simon's ex-wife Carrie Fisher.
Here's an article from The Guardian about Art's library. The writer, Nigel Smith, notes that he read Catch-22 in February 1969, while he was making his acting debut in Mike Nichols' movie adaptation. And I'm not sure if there's any connection, but in the month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he read military historian Peter Paret's Understanding War.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Art says that he avoids fluff. "I read for the reading pleasure, not for the gold star. Reading is a way to take downtime and make it stimulating. If you’re in the waiting room of a dentist’s office and don’t want to twiddle your thumbs, you turn to Tolstoy.”
Ok, that's not exactly the reading material I'd take to the dentist, but here's to you, Mr. Garfunkel!