A very happy event came to me this week. The local bookstore (The Book Table) started getting periodicals again. I think I’ve alluded in the past to my enjoyment of well written book reviews and how The New York Review of Books is the pinnacle of this art form. When the pandemic descended, the bookstore dealt with it for a time by allowing one to order online and then go to the back door to receive your purchases – a little like a 1930’s speakeasy type of thing. Sadly, it turned out that they would not make periodicals like the NYRB available. Maybe receiving those deliveries was too much of a manual process like getting newspapers delivered.
The Book Table had started allowing people to go into the store when Summer came. I’ve tried pretty hard to not go into places that I don’t need to and I stuck to my backdoor access instead – and we used it; I’ve bought a couple books and our daughters asked for a few which my spouse and I were happy to buy. This past week, we went to pick up a book I had bought (Man’s Fate, Andre Malreaux. I’m sure I’ll write on that at some point, very much a favorite which I’ve reread many times). This time though, I went into the store. That was interesting in itself – a bookstore is necessarily a tactile place. You browse, touch, flip pages, read – just like going to a food store or farmer’s market. Prominent signs made clear the need to use the omnipresent hand sanitizers. Despite the daily or hourly chatter of this or that implication of the pandemic, it had not sunk in with me the particular challenge for a place like the bookstore. I took a pretty cautious approach, joyously noted the NYRB and took a copy from the back of the stack.
The first article was a review of a new book from Elena Ferrante by Elaine Blaire. I knew of Ferrante by name but haven’t read anything of hers. It was a great review. One of the nuggets in it was a paragraph on how Ferrante’s characters who write or reflect or meditate are dealing with the challenge of how does one organize the jumble of thoughts that run through your head and memories and shape them into something. I am not doing it justice right now, but it was written well enough that I reflected on how it has a similarity to aspects of my own life – whether written or otherwise. In physics, there’s a notion which is conveyed in the idea of entropy that organization has information inherent in it which is not always directly related to the objects being organized. Not surprising really but it interests me.
At the same time, this idea conflicts with other ideas around how to run a life. Sometimes when I think of the depth and discipline I need to learn about things I want to do or need to do, I start down the path of thinking that I need to organize for the future; I will do X for this period of time on days A and B. But I reflexively recoil almost immediately. It might be a result of getting older, but I feel like the flexibility I retain by not deciding ahead of time exactly what I will do and when is more important to life and to doing things than the rigidity of an organized plan. Is there room for the apparent chaos in waiting to the last moment to decide what to do? I’m not sure.