The Depression-era farm of my late father’s youth was fueled by firewood, so the ability to see winter through was measured in cords.
A cord of firewood is four feet high by four feet wide by eight feet long. That’s a lot of wood, although I don’t know how long it lasts during a cold season on a rural Louisiana homestead where the hearth and cooking stove consume logs from daylight through dusk. It’s a question I don’t feel pressed to answer, since I’m writing this from my living room in these closing days of the year, the place warmed by a gas furnace in the attic.
But it occurred to me, before going to bed the other night, that I’m getting through winter on a cord of my own – the huge stack of unread books near my nightstand. I read books for both pleasure and professional obligation, but they accumulate more quickly than I can get to them. I’ve just extended a measuring tape across my book stack, so I can tell you that it’s two feet high and nearly four feet long. That’s not a cord, I know, but I also know that many other unread books rest elsewhere in the house, on various shelves and tables. I bet there’s a cord of unread stuff around here, maybe more.
Some of the books will never be read, at least not by me. I’ll donate them to some worthy cause, or – if the precedent set by my late relatives is any indication – some descendant of mine will deal with them when I’m gone.
It can be sobering for a book lover to think of carrying the solemn weight of all those books into another year, but there’s comfort in it, too. No matter how long this winter is, I know that I’ll never run out of something to read.
Here are five books from my yet-to-be-read stack. I can’t recommend them, exactly – I haven’t, after all, read them – but they look promising. See what you think:
1) “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace” by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books, 304 pages, $22.95). More reflections on everyday spirituality from the author of “Stitches” and “Bird by Bird.” It’s disgraceful that I haven’t made time to read this book, but I plan to do it soon.
2) “On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History” by Nicholas A. Basbanes (Knopf, 430 pages, $35). Basbanes, who describes himself as a “self-confessed bibliophile,” surveys the story of the paper we use for books and letters. Basbane’s celebration of the traditional book seems like something I’d like.
3) “The 40s: The Story of A Decade: The New Yorker.” (Random House, 696 pages, $30.) An anthology of material from the magazine’s best writers during a momentous decade. What’s not to like?
4) “Moments of Being: A Collection of Autobiographical Writing” by Virginia Woolf (Harcourt, 230 pages, $14). A little book I picked up at a rummage sale. I love Woolf’s perfect sentences, but this book contains some of her unpublished stuff, still in draft form. Maybe there’s insight here into how Woolf made her prose so flawless.
5) “Talk Show” by Dick Cavett. (Times Books, 279 pages, $25). The famed talk show host’s collection of essays from his endlessly chatty online column for The New York Times. The pieces are short enough to be polished off like bon-bons. What am I waiting for? Here’s hoping for a happy 2015 for bibliophiles everywhere – and more time to read.