Occasionally, while reading a really good book, I get a better offer. I have to set what I am reading aside, no matter how good it is, and start reading something else. I don’t do this lightly, and I take on quite a bit of guilt for doing it. (This post is my penance.) Such a sudden shift is almost always the result of the serendipitous nature of reading. Let me give an example.
Back in April, after reading a couple of books by or about journalists, I decided I wanted some more. It so happens that the baseball writer, Tom Verducci, had just come out with The Cubs Way, his book on the Chicago Cubs World Championship last year. I decided to read that.
Well, one thing led to another, and I went on a baseball rampage. I read Zach Hample’s Watching Baseball Smarter, then Jon Pessah’s The Game. I followed that up with Jason Turbow’s The Baseball Codes. Then I read Stephen Jay Gould’s outstanding collection of baseball writing, Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville. I read Verducci and Joe Torre’s The Yankee Years, and because I was reading so much baseball, I decided to re-read W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. I wanted some good old school baseball writing after that. I had a Roger Angell collection and a Red Smith collection, and I opted for the latter, Red Smith’s On Baseball.
One can’t read Red Smith’s wonderful baseball writing without wanting to know more about Smith himself. Wikipedia wasn’t enough. I happened to be doing a search for the fellow who wrote the forward to Smith’s collection, Ira Berkow, and discovered that he’d written a biography of Red Smith. I ordered it at once.
That book arrived today, and although I am only halfway through Smith’s On Baseball (a young kid named Mantle just made his major league debut), I am so eager to read the Smith biography that I am setting aside the Smith collection to do so. I hate doing it, and I feel suitably guilty for my action, but Ira Berkow made me a better offer.
I rationalize this better offer by telling myself that the second half of Smith’s collection will be even better when I know Smith better thanks to the biography. I don’t know if that is true, but that’s my story, etc., etc.
There is a danger to better offers. One better offer has the chance of leading to another, and you end up spending a month or two doing nothing but reading the first half of books. Then, too, there is the chance that the Smith biography will lead me down some unseen serendipitous path. Down that path is madness; I might never make it back to the Smith collection. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take. I’ve honed this instinct of mine for decades, and I’ve learned to trust it.
I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty about it.