At any point in time, I have a stack of books piled up around my home and waiting to be read. It’s quite the hodgepodge of genres and topics. And I never choose just one. I give into “shiny object syndrome” and start reading about whatever topic grabs my attention in the moment. Right now, for instance, I’m reading four books: a primer on game theory; SLOW KNITTING by Hannah Thiessen; a novel that a friend just sold to a publisher in an enviable book deal; and a bestselling thriller.
Now you might think that only the last two books would have something in common. But, as odd is it may sound, trust and trustworthiness are integral to the first three.
Game theory isn’t about playing games; it’s about what it means to solve a game, how people signal trustworthiness, and the idea that everyone acts in his own best interest (the same idea made popular by John Nash). If you liked the movie A BEAUTIFUL MIND, you might consider reading up on game theory.
I discovered SLOW KNITTING when I was e-shopping on a high-end home furnishings website. I stopped to wonder why a site like that was selling this book, so I checked it out of my local library. Within minutes of opening it, I decided to buy my own copy. It’s a beautiful book about the craft of knitting. And I don’t use that term lightly. Craft is more than the manufacture of a thing; it is the purposeful application of an artistic skill to create that thing. The table of contents alone communicates the degree of craftmanship that Ms. Thiessen applies to her subject matter: source carefully, produce thoughtfully, think environmentally, experiment fearlessly, explore openly. They’re actions you could apply to many areas of a life lived with purpose.
Which brings me to the third and fourth books on my nightstand. A friend is letting me read the manuscript for the literary mystery her agent just sold to a prestigious publisher. I had been reading thrillers and mystery series the same way I might eat to the bottom of a bucket of popcorn: a little mindlessly and with no expectation of nutritional value. But the epigraph alone told me what to expect: this book was going to be no bucket of popcorn. It was going to be a slow food meal, created with great care and craftsmanship. The opening paragraphs confirmed that belief. I was stunned by the quality of the writing. Even if I didn’t know where the story was going to take me, I realized very quickly that I trusted this writer—not because I knew her personally, or because a lot of publishers wanted to buy her book, but because it was meticulously crafted.
I quickly abandoned the fourth book I was reading because it felt like fast food in comparison. And I decided, after having watched a few episodes of The Real Housewives of NYC back-to-back, to give my brain a nutritious treat.
Anything created with a lot of care, whether it’s something to eat, play, read, or wear, deserves to be sensed to its fullest, and doing that takes time. So, as I head into the next round of revisions of my own novel, hoping to make it something that readers will one day want to own and not just borrow and then toss aside, I’ll leave you with the opening paragraphs of my all-time favorite novel so you can see just what I mean:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
Thanks this week go to the late, great Vladimir Nabokov, whose words fill me with wonder each time I read them. I’ve bought more copies of LOLITA than I can remember because each time I loan one to a friend, I never get it back. Ah well. At least I can console myself knowing that I gave him or her something nutritious to feast upon.