Let me say that only 6 books in, this self-imposed 100-book curriculum is already yielding a very sweet reward: with each book, the reader in me is less of a stranger. For many years, my life as an independent artist has consumed so much of my time and energy that I would often begin books, but rarely finish them. My constant use of the internet and its attendant social media addictions weren’t doing anything for my attention span either. My reading muscles had gone soft. The truth is that without even knowing it’d happened, I’d started to believe that I was not capable of finishing a book. I accumulated them, no doubt about that; I bought them in airports, at outdoor stalls, in impulsively-entered bookstores; I justified the bargain of picking them up by the bagful from discount sidewalk bins outside BMV. I brought home books which smarter people than myself had put out to the sidewalk. I inherited discards from my father, or from friends who were moving and jettisoning their book-weight. It became a reflex to bring home any book in which I had even the vaguest interest, or that I felt would fill a gap in my library’s frame of reference. But I’d lost my sense of myself as someone who could make the time to read them.
Book #6 is a perfect example of my book-hoarding addiction. I was walking down Gladstone Ave. in Toronto and came upon some boxes on the curb. A crooked pair of shoes, an old printer - “Still works!” - and a handful of books. I will always, always stop to look at curbside books. For the most part, let it be said, cardboard-box discards deserve their fate. Hoary textbooks, third-tier self-help manuals; hobby-published vanity projects: you can usually feel their dead weight just by looking at them. But you never know… and c’mon, who doesn’t love getting their hands a little book-grimed for that anticipatory tickle that you just might find something you’ve been looking for, or that you weren’t expecting to discover. In this case, first of all, PICADOR. PICADOR is my favourite publisher. Perhaps because, as a seventeen year-old reader, it was a PICADOR edtion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved that had such a powerful impact on me (it's the only book I've ever read four times in a row) - or maybe it's because, over the years, I’ve been consistently knocked out by PICADOR finds (they've never given me a reason to doubt their choices). Maybe it’s the simple beauty of the editions themselves - the typography, the font, the white spines bearing the logo which inspires in me so much confidence - but I've often purchased a book simply because it’s a PICADOR. Along the same lines, I have a friend named Johnny who has a ten thousand-record collection who said that even after his vinyl-stockpiling mania had abated, and he had sold or given away half his collection (there was a chunk of his life during which he would simply buy everything), one label he never walks away from is STAX. The STAX name is its bond. To this day, if Johnny’s never heard of the artist, it doesn’t matter - if STAX put it out, it’s worth having.
As far as books are concerned, PICADOR is my STAX.
So what do I find on the curb but a 1987 PICADOR edition of a Salman Rushdie non-fiction called The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey, published when he had three novels to his name. And despite the fact that I’ve only read Salman Rushdie in fits and starts, his name - like PICADOR - immediately puts me at ease and has my complete curiosity. So what a great find on Gladstone Ave. - and exactly the kind of book which, pre-100 Book Blog, I would have taken home, having experienced the dopamine-rush of having acquired it - and then never been able to make the time, or to summon up the necessary intention - or to even believe, deep down, that I was really going to read it all.
Which is why this “program” is already a personal triumph. Because I am reading these books now. I’ve read Cloud Atlas, a book for which I felt inadequately out of shape going into (but which I loved, see Book #4) and I’m excited to read more Salman Rushdie, who already had a place on my 100-book list. But reading The Jaguar Smile reminded me of another reason for this project: to remember that I can simply be surprised by books - in other words, that this playlist is on shuffle - and that as long as they’re my books, anything is possible. And with each selection, my reading muscles grow a little more supple, and my friendship with my library a little warmer.