Books That Unlock Other Books
And the non-reading of books, you will object, should be characteristic of collectors? This is news to me, you may say. It is not news at all. Experts will bear me out when I say that it is the oldest thing in the world.
From Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library
To me, an unread book is always an unlocked world. It sits on the same shelf as the read books, with worlds that I’ve entered and characters who’s stories have become mine. And sometimes it sits there for years, unread.
Recently I’ve come to realize that there are some books that “unlock” other books—so that this fifth, tenth, fifteenth time that I pick up the unread book, is the last time it stays unread. Because a book I’ve just finished led me straight there and I’m now ready, prepared, to enter that world.
Sometimes there’s a strict logic to the connection between the two books, sometimes there’s nothing more than a feeling.
So I finally read Alberto Moravia’s Contempt after years of it sitting on my shelf and years more of loving Godard’s adaptation, because I’d just finished Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs and something about Thomas Abbey in The Land of Laughs led me immediately to Molteni in Contempt. Prior to this, I’d started Contempt about six or seven times, always stopping after a few pages.
Then from Emmanuel Carrère’s My Life as a Russian Novel to the first book of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Justine. I’ve tried to read Justine about ten, twelve times before, never making it past the first page. Now I’m on my way to book two of the Quartet. Because I’m just in that sort of mood now. Which I wasn’t before My Life as a Russian Novel.
In both those most recent experiences, I didn’t know what would come next—I didn’t start Carroll thinking of Moravia, or Carrère thinking of Durrell. It just worked out that way.
But I’m wondering now if the book that unlocks other books, could work in reverse. If I could pick a book that I’ve never been able to get through, but have always wanted to read, and locate the one book that would unlock its world for me.
Because I’m trying to work up the courage for Musil. For a Los Angeles to Frankfurt and Frankfurt back to Los Angeles flight in October. And I’ve been told I’m just not ready for Musil. Years ago.
Unlocking The Man Without Qualities. There must be a book out there that will.