Friday, April 20, 2007

Article: Book backlog

Like many people, I find there are a lot of things I don’t have enough time to do. I don’t get around even to things I really like, never mind the endless list of tasks that I don’t like. This predicament became apparent when a friend lent me a book. He’d gotten two books and said he’d read one and I’d read the other, then we could swap so that we’d both read both books. I didn’t want to agree because I haven’t had any time to read lately but when I saw the books he’d selected, I couldn’t resist.

I dropped the copy of “Infidel,” an autobiography by Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the backseat in my car. I’d seen the author on one of the late night comedy talk shows and her story struck me as fascinating. Born a Muslim in Somalia, she later became an atheist and a member of the Dutch parliament. How could I not want to read about that transformation? Yet the book remained in the car, untouched. Each day, I would see it lying there, waiting to be read.

The problem isn’t just that I don’t have time to read. Compounding that issue, there are a whole slew of books ahead of “Infidel” on my reading list. I don’t want to read them more than I want to read “Infidel,” but neither do I want to read them less. And some have been sitting on my desk or coffee table or bookshelf for a long time. I can’t just take the johnny-come-lately book and advance it to the top of the stack.

My daughter, who is a linguist, gave me an intriguing book for the winter holiday titled “The Language Instinct.” If I read that, maybe I’ll understand what’s she’s talking about better. Even without that carrot to entice me, the subject is something I’m interested in. When I was getting my degree in computer science, I studied a lot about artificial intelligence and natural language parsing. I know what an intractable problem language is. I’d love to learn about it from a linguistics vantage.

I also committed to read and review a book a friend of mine is writing. I’ve read about half of “Comancheria” and really liked it. But when Darrell gave me the second half, I was caught up in another project and set the book aside until I could finish that. I’m still not done with the other project and Darrell’s book calls forlornly from the coffee table where it sits even as I write this. Reviewing a book is more time consuming than simple reading though and I need to set aside a block of time to really do it justice. Maybe next week.

Last weekend I decided to take action on this backlog of books. I went to my shelf and pulled out the book that had been waiting the longest. I sat myself down and started reading. The book is “Eldest” by Christopher Paolini. It’s the sequel to his first novel, “Eragon.” Paolini wrote “Eragon” when he was fifteen years old, a formidable feat. I read it a couple of years ago and it was pretty good. Then I saw the movie version which was terrible. It took all the bad parts of the book, the parts that gave away the author’s age and immaturity, and coalesced them. Not a good idea. Still I wanted to give “Eldest” a chance. That has proved to be another bad idea but I’m going to stick it out to the end.

A package came from my sister-in-law Cherilyn this week. Guess what, it’s a book. “The China Study” presents a comprehensive review of diet and nutrition as revealed by a study of 6,500 people in China. It also promises to discuss western politics and its influence on nutrition. That does sound interesting. I placed it prominently on my desk where I will see it each day. Some day, hopefully some day soon, I’ll get around to reading it.

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