Charles Petzold

I'm Craving Books

June 3, 2007
Roscoe, N.Y.

I'm craving books. I need to be reading books soon or I will surely wither away.

It's been so, so long since I've read a book free from distraction, and now I want to stuff my face with them, chew them back to pulp, and swallow them in sodden chunks of knowledge and insight.

I'm craving novels. I'm craving short, taut, pungent novels and big, fat, juicy novels dripping with grease and human torment. I'm craving novels hot off the frying pan, like the new Don DeLillo and the new Ian McEwan, and the new DeLillo reminds me that Underworld is still in the freezer waiting for defrosting.

I'm craving painless desserts like the final Harry Potter. I'm craving novels that have been imported from England and aged to perfection. I know for sure there's a Trollope in my future this summer, quite likely a George Eliot, and this might even be the summer for Tom Jones. And what's that I hear? A young lady named Clarissa has been calling me from the bookshelf, pleading to be saved from neglect. That's how hungry I am.

I'm craving history. I'm craving biography. I'm craving The Best and the Brightest. I'm craving Guns, Germs, and Steel, I'm craving Radical Enlightenment, I'm craving Christopher and His Kind, I'm craving Mossner's Life of David Hume.

It's summer and I want to be reading books until my eyeballs turn purple and nothing but elegant sentences ripple through my brain.

How has it come to this? How can I be so starved?

The truth is, reading books is often incompatible with writing them. When I start writing a new book, I try my best to lead a balanced life. I try to work no more than 8 hours a day for 5 days a week, and to spend part of my life in other activities, such as reading books and going to concerts and museums and the movies.

But as the months go by and the deadline approaches, I realize the book won't be done in time. I start working more hours a day, my weekends disappear, and before you know it, I can't read books. Every time I pick up a book, my mind wanders to code and markup, and after I'm done for the day, all I'm capable of doing is collapsing in front of the TV, watching the daily parade of serial killers and terrorists that haunt the television cop shows, with a chapter draft and a red pen sitting on my lap.

But now the 3D book is finished (except for the work that still needs to be done, of course) and I can switch to a summer schedule — perhaps six hours a day, maybe even four for a little while, with actual workless weekends. Maybe I'll even take a week or two off work completely. I hear it's called a "vacation" in the U.S. and "holiday" in England.

And I'm not starting my new schedule tomorrow. I'm starting today. Today is Sunday, and today I shall gorge.