On choosing a new book for the nights (series: notes to myself)

The work of an academic: read, write, speak. By oneself. With others. Privately or in public. 

Three kinds of actions, no different from any other job today. But as life progresses, some success leads one to read less and write more, and then speak more than one writes. The successful academic becomes a speaker, perhaps a keynote speaker. From being an academic to being a dubious guru of some sort, blathering about anything, opinionating on everything, the escalation is quick, the risk of repetitive emptiness becomes a reality. 

So, you know that you have to withstand the current, resist the temptation, avoid the easy path. Speak less, write less, read more.
Read more, but not of what must be read: the report, the thesis, the article to review, the draft to correct, the data analysis needed for the next piece of work, the text of some regulation, the commentary of an expert, an excellent op-ed unmissable, the dailies and the weeklies, the peer-reviewed paper, the academic monograph, the minutes of the meeting, the departmental emails... Not this.

Read more of the necessary superfluous: the novel, the interview, the introduction to an unrelated topic that is just interesting, a poem, an essay, a review of a book you will not read. Eat a different fruit not listed in the compulsory diet, take a road that is not the usual commuting, enjoy the long journey, not the useful shortcut (“Just look at the abstract! Who reads articles these days, there is no time…”). No Festina, just Lente. And by reading what you can but don't have to, reappropriate your own mental time, get some fresh air in the stuffy corners of your boring thoughts, repeated, regurgitated so many times.

This is why choosing the book to read at night is a delicate business not to be rushed. And it cannot be done with a digital library, where everything is a bidimensional, shadowless, depthless screen. You have to hold the volume in your hands, because its weight matters; its thickness speaks to the expert reader of many weeks or maybe just a handful of nights, like the miles you can drive with that tank; a quick thumbing shows the size of the fonts (“big, so this is not really a book this is a long essay printed like a book”). A few jumps here and there provide a good sampling. 

After a while, some books make it to the shortlist. Some are new, some have been with you for years, yellowing patiently for the right night. The thrill of going for one instead of another… which one will be the winner? And then, at some point, like in an open market where you need to choose which fruit to buy, you start inclining. You prefer that book and not another, a son to a stepson, and you are ready to give the gift of your many hours to those words that will keep you company, much less alone for a while in your mind. It is the choice of the road among many, when arriving at a roundabout. The others will still be available tomorrow, but tonight you left them behind. You took this road, hoping it will lead to Larissa.

One day, it would be interesting to reconstruct the choices, map the books you travelled, and those that you left unexplored. One day, for some books, it will be too late. But not yet. Not tonight, when the choice is made, scrolling the shelves and reordering the piles, opening and closing covers with some false starts. 

And tonight, this choice shows how you feel about the world. Because tonight you need something robust, a strong taste, a writing in which there are more ideas than words, more things actually said than the mere desire of saying something. You need a powerful flavour, from basic, good ingredients. Perhaps something in Italian.
Flaiano's “Opere Scelte”. … 
Page 1. Line 1. “I was amazed to be alive, but tired of waiting for help.” (From A Time to Kill). 
Wonder and weariness. Practically the beginning of any good philosophizing. 
That's a good start.
You did well. 
You can walk this road. It will be a good trip.


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