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End-of-summer reading regrets? They're nothing new

If you're looking at a pile of books you meant to get through before Labor Day, you're not alone, according to Aldous Huxley.

By / September 3, 2012

Aldous Huxley said of summer reading ambition, 'All tourists cherish an illusion... that they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading.'

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As Labor Day arrives, signaling the end of another summer reading season, you might be wondering why you didn’t read as many books at the beach as you thought you would.

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But that problem isn’t a new one, as evidenced by some remarks on travel and reading that Aldous Huxley offered back in 1925.

Huxley, who died in 1963, was best known as the novelist behind the celebrated science fiction story “Brave New World.”  But Huxley was also a travel writer, and in “Along the Road: Notes and Essays of A Tourist,” he offers this reflection:

“All tourists cherish an illusion, of which no amount of experience can ever completely cure them; they imagine that they will find time, in the course of their travels, to do a lot of reading. They see themselves, at the end of a day’s sightseeing or motoring, or while they are sitting in the train, studiously turning over the pages of all the vast and serious works which, at ordinary seasons, they never find time to read. They start for a fortnight’s tour in France, taking with them ‘The Critique of Pure Reason,’ ‘Appearance and Reality,’ the complete works of Dante and the ‘Golden Bough.’ They come home to make the discovery that they have read something less than half a chapter of the ‘Golden Bough’ and the first fifty-two lines of the ‘Inferno.’”

Huxley conceded that although he was still far too optimistic in judging how much he’d read on a trip, he’d become more prudent, not carrying quite as many volumes along. But he welcomed the innovation of India paper, which allowed very thin pages, meaning that long texts could be carried in lighter formats. “All Shakespeare... gets into a volume no bigger than a novel,” Huxley noted with satisfaction.

Which leaves us wondering what Huxley, an early champion of compact books, would have thought of the e-reader.

Danny Heitman, a columnist with The Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”

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