It is just the way things are. My reading list/pile is always longer/taller than I have time for. And living between the rice fields and spice-laden Western Ghats I do not have access to the kind of bookstores we took for granted while living elsewhere. Amazon does not deliver in India.
Even if I had access to a great book store I might not have picked this one up off the shelf, though I admire the author’s writing. I have not been in the mood for anything too canonical or Great lately; rather merely useful, interesting, lesser reading. Short- and long form journalism tend to be my standard fare. There was something in the pile with Greenblatt’s name on it, a magazine article, that I kept burying for months and which persistently kept resurfacing.
That resurfacing happened most recently in an automobile driving through those Western Ghats. There it was, at the top again. I finally gave in. I started reading it with, I must be honest, the hope that it would put me to sleep for the remainder of the drive.
Within a couple paragraphs, I made a startled noise, but it was not the snore my car mates presumed at first. More like a harrumph. By the end of the first page I started reading out loud. No one reads out loud while driving in the Western Ghats. It is not smart. It will surely nauseate.
I did. Or I did my best. There were sentences that I could not get out without choking up. Some choking up was due to a pure form of excitement that only a long lost English major could feel, remembering what had made literature the focus of early adulthood. Some was due to the impossible beauty of the idea laid out.
I read it out loud to the very end. My car mates would not have let me stop even if I wanted to. That was some days back. But every day since I have been thinking about it: how am I going to get more of that? Now I know. That article is a small sampling of his book, The Swerve. Start with the article, which is not behind the pay wall, and see if you can resist the need to get your hands on the book. If you do not have time to read the article to know whether the book is a must-read, listen to a review. Six minutes could change your world.
I wanted merely useful, interesting, lesser reading. Instead, I got useful, interesting, Great reading. If anything can put the written word back into black, this is the stuff dreams are made of.
If we can all be grateful that Poggio reached for that book on that shelf in that monastery, there is a small swirl of similarity in my gratitude for how this nearly lost article resurfaced. It swerved me.