May 2002

Jen Crispin

misc columns

What Comes Next

As much as I ever look forward to finishing a book, I also dread making the "next book" decision. Being a dedicated bookslut, I have hundreds of them, filling seven bookshelves which dominate my little apartment (three in the living room, two in the "office", two in the bedroom...). I know that moving two of them into the bedroom was a bad, bad idea, but there was really nowhere else for them to go at this point. But now I can feel them staring at me in bed. Some of them angry, some of them just sad, but all disappointed at how long they have been sitting there, unread, unloved, unopened. Book guilt.

So how does one choose from so many? Hundreds of books that were all found fascinating enough at one point to buy, or to ask for on Christmas and birthday lists? And with such a range of subject matter: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic novels, religion, erotica, science, history, the classics, manifestos, post-modern feminist faerie tales, Rushdie, Parker, Winterson, Hemingway, Woolf, Moby Dick, Sense and Sensibility, Les Miserables, The Quran....

It helps to always have a system. So far this year, I've been alternating, one fiction, one non-fiction. But now I am slugging through A People's History of the United States, and it hurts me. Don't get me wrong, it's a fabulous book, but it's ridiculously depressing. The hypocrisy, the greed, watching your idols exposed for their pettiness, your childhood heroes unmasked. So I've limited myself to reading it only on the bus. Taking it in those small bites five days a week is about all the outrage I need.

So what would possess me to read Night by Elie Weisel this weekend? Book guilt, of course. I was reading the New York Public Library's Books of the Century, and Night was one of the few that I hadn't read that I also had in the house. Plus my husband has been bugging me to read it. So I sat down and read it in one session Saturday night. And boy, was it depressing.

So where do you go after Night? It would be too much contrast to pick up something so light as to be the opposite of Night. Although the impulse was certainly there, to pick up Austen, comforting, light, and charming, Austen, especially my newly acquired copy of Mansfield Park, it would have almost certainly been annoying. How can one really take the trials of poor Fanny Price as seriously as they should be when the horrors of the Holocaust are somewhere rumbling in the back of your mind. (Not to mention the horrors of slavery and the Civil War, which is the chapter of The People's History that I am in currently.)

No, something more disturbing is needed. But a more familiar kind of disturbing. The kind of disturbing that doesn't shake your faith in humanity as a whole, but maybe just in one small segment of it. So I'm reading The End of Alice by A.M. Homes. About pedophilia. Yippee! Disturbing, yes. But not Holocaust disturbing. Not Civil War disturbing. Just disturbing.

But soon I'll be done with The End of Alice as well. And what then? Some short stories, maybe. Or maybe Rumi. Who knows? But soon I'll be lying on my bed again. And part of my brain will be processing the book I've just finished, but perhaps an even bigger part will be scanning the bookshelves, holding auditions for the next book.