I’ll be the first to admit I don’t read as much as I would like, or even as much as I used to. I recently had this sobering conversation with a friend, the same friend with whom I once created a Facebook group about not “looking like philistines”: “I used to read philosophy texts in eighth grade, and actually enjoyed them — and now I barely read for class.” “I used to think I liked the classics — and now I spend most of my time reading gossip blogs.” “Really?” “… I just really like Gofugyourself.”
But January always convinces me, at least for the month, that things could be different. Surely many of you reading this column have had the experience of going to Shaman Drum during syllabus week, looking at the full-price, brand-new textbooks and silently screaming at the damage they will do to your checking account — knowing that after you returned last semester’s books at three or four bucks a pop is no consolation.
If you’re like me, you think about buying used books online instead, then walk downstairs from the textbook shop and funnel the calculated savings toward shiny new novels and essay collections to read for pleasure. There’s an economic term for consumers who spend money knowing they will receive a big financial windfall, those who spend money before they actually get that raise or paycheck … or re-sold book money. My English thesis-addled brain can’t think of it at the moment, but oh, does it apply to me.
Furthermore, who wants to go outside into sub-zero temperatures and Ann Arbor’s arbitrarily plowed streets? I don’t. (I would hate to think that my more frequent declining of suggested nights out during winter means I’m destined to be alone for the rest of my life. What if my future life partner is waiting to be found at Charley’s?) To keep up the morale and fuzzy feeling that comes with socializing, subtract the wait outside on South U. in the cold and make some use of your brain, I’ve come up with some things to do until the thaw that blend the literary and social spheres.
Idea No. 1: Pair good books with good drinks (and good food). “Beijing Coma” doesn’t really make me want to drink cheap rice spirits, but I do find myself dreaming of Chinese food as protagonist Dai Wei relives his pre-coma memories. Curl up on the couch with the book and some decent takeout — if you don’t tell me where the food’s from, I won’t judge. Or drink wine as the characters in the first part of Roberto Bolano’s “2666” travel through Europe and to Mexico in pursuit of a reclusive writer, wining and dining on the way. Then there’s always Kingsley Amis’s “Everyday Drinking,” which has experienced a recent surge in popularity, re-printed with his “On Drink” and “How’s Your Glass?” Mix a pitcher of gin and tonic (for you and a friend or, if you really are Kingsley’s kind of drink-man or woman, for you and yourself), read his non-fiction and discuss.
Idea No. 2: Ernest Hemingway get-together/drinking game. Gather friends and copies of Papa’s heaviest drinking short stories and novels. Anything set in Spain is a good bet. Drink every time the characters drink. Drink every time a character is introduced who doesn’t appear to be much more than a gender stereotype. Drink every time an animal gets shot. Two drinks if it’s because the animal has been taken down by helicopter. Kidding.
Idea No. 3: Test the “January is mating season” theory. Another friend theorizes that humans, especially college-age humans, just want to cuddle up with each other during colder months, and even more so in the first few weeks after the holiday break. Hibernation with a buddy. An attempt to conserve heat between bodies. Something like that. With your partner, climb into bed with copies of novels listed for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction award — or something more highbrow, like “Ulysses.” Read “sexy” passages out loud and test the fine line between mild disgust/confusion and arousal. Giggle. Make out. Repeat.
Idea No. 4: Exchange books with your housemates/neighbors/people in your apartment complex. This one is for the cheapskates and true lonely hearts. Swapping books is good way to get to know people better — and it’s completely free. That is, until you spill that pitcher of gin and tonic on “A Farewell to Arms.”