What kind of a commitment does one make when one begins reading a book?
If you’re like me, the commitment is to the entire text, start to finish though I confess I do not read every entry in the index. Preface, yes. Acknowledgments, you bet. Bibliography, uh huh. Footnotes, most of ‘em.
The fact that I selected (which sometimes means “purchased”) the book signifies my interest and my interest determines my commitment.
But every now and again, and this does not happen very often, I have to abandon the text.
Claude Bragdon is a pretty famous Rochester, New York architect. There are a couple of good books about him: Jonathan Massey’s Crystal and Arabesque: Claude Bragdon, Ornament, and Modern Architecture (2009) is the best biography and Eugenia Victoria Ellis and Andrea G. Reithmayr’s (Eds.) Claude Bragdon and the Beautiful Necessity (2010) the most valuable collection of original essays on him and his work.
Having read those titles, I knew that at a certain point, Bragdon adopted Theosophy: a mystical, philosophical position that can be traced to the third quarter of the 19th century. Unfamiliar with it, I sought more information. And the book I turned to was such a head-bump text that, after 60 pages, I gave up. No smarter than before, I was probably more confused.
More recently, I got 125 pages into a 400-page book written by the director of a major metropolitan museum. With a clever title, the book’s cover also should have tipped me off to its contents; there are no fewer than five pictures of the author posed next to the words forming the book’s title.
Purportedly, the 1993 book would let me in on the back story behind the magnificent exhibitions hosted by the museum in the late 1960s and early 1970s, surely fertile soil for ground-breaking museum shows.
This is a book about the author. Who, it just so happened, was also a director at a museum. But mostly, it is about him. Me-me-me. As though he was tuning-up for a vocal performance.
I felt a little bad about giving up on the book. Not that I was worried about offending its author, as that seems unlikely. Instead, about how I came to own the book.
Attending a book sale at a tiny public library, purely by chance, the book was recommended by a perfect stranger. Another shopper who, like me, was picking up a few titles for a few cents each. “You’ll love this,” she exclaimed.
Well, if I’m going to love it, surely it’s worth 50 cents.
I didn’t love it. I hated it. Especially the self-aggrandizing author.
But what I disliked even more was giving up on the book once cracked open.
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