I gave up reading The New York Times Book Review several years ago when a family member gave up reading The Sunday New York Times and passing the Book Review on to me. I wasn't too cheap to buy the paper. Honestly. But the odds of my being able to read two Sunday newspapers were very, very low. I would fall months behind just reading the Book Review. In fact, I bought the Sunday Times, myself, back in May and just found the half-read Book Review in my laundry room. I can't begin to guess what it was doing there. Besides not being read, of course.
The end result of my not reading the Book Review is that I no longer have a very good grasp of what is going on in adult fiction. I find myself standing in front of the new fiction shelves at libraries going What do I do? What do I do? So many books. Which ones should I take off the shelves and look at?
This, people, is why we need book reviews--so that people like myself won't be overwhelmed in libraries and bookstores.
Anyway, I was in I'm a Reading Fool's library yesterday freaking out in front of its sizable new fiction section when I decided to go look at the new nonfiction. I went right to the essay shelf and thought, Why, that looks good and that looks good and that looks good. I took a number of things off the shelf and gave them the once over.
And what did I find but Anne Fadiman's At Large and At Small, which I actually knew about because of a post at Chasing Ray.
How weird is that?
So even though I now have a stack of books next to my bed that is nearly a foot high, I read one of Fadiman's essays last night. I was afraid The Unfuzzy Lamb was going to be about nature or agriculture because the first essay in the collection appeared to be about collecting butterfies, which led me to skip it. But, no, The Unfuzzy Lamb is about Charles Lamb.
Now, I actually have a modest interest in Lamb. He was one of the more accessible writers in my Romantic Period class as an undergraduate. (Though I found myself strangely attracted to Thomas DeQuincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, too.) I have a vague recollection of beginning some kind of contemporary version of Lamb's Dream Children many years ago. God only knows what happened to that.
Anyway, Fadiman's essay on Lamb was very readable and interesting. But what I kept thinking as I read it was, Where do you publish an essay on Charles Lamb? And who the Hell is going to read it? Besides me, of course. It turns out Fadiman published her Lamb essay in The American Scholar, not a publication that I have a lot of familiarity with. Or, to be honest, had even heard of before last night. It may publish essays about Lamb all the time, and I'd never know.
I've read Fadiman's Ex Libris, though I can't say it made much of an impression on me. I know it is somewhere in this house, and I can even pinpoint the room. Beyond that, it will probably be a major effort to find it. But it might be worth taking another look.
Anyway, my post title is What's Happening To Me? so I should get around to saying something about that. What I'll say is I went into a library, was flummoxed in front of the fiction and happy in front of the essays. That's a shift, people. I'm shifting. That's what's happening to me.