I need to tell you a shocking secret, but you must promise not to tell anyone. If you tell even one other person, it will ruin my professional reputation and call my credentials as a friend of culture and the written word into question.
Okay. Here goes.
I, Robert Benson, have never read Of Mice and Men.
Shocking, right? I’m a college library director, and I’ve never even once read this short, accessible literary classic. My team at work found me out this week and are now questioning their life choices. How can they work on a library team led by someone who has never taken the time to experience a 100 page staple of American literature read by millions of American middle school students every single year? I have no answers.
It gets worse.
I also have never read Pride and Prejudice; The Diary of Anne Frank; Little Women; Wuthering Heights; The Picture of Dorian Gray; or The Old Man and the Sea.
I once started Moby Dick but thought it was boring and stopped.
Hard Times is the only Charles Dickens novel I have ever read.
I’ve never watched Gone with the Wind, Casablanca or Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
I don’t particularly enjoy Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday recordings. I desperately love the music but the sound quality of those early recordings hurts my ears.
Too much? I know it’s painful, but there’s more you need to know.
Most rhyming poetry is willfully opaque and boring. Unless its not.
Emily Dickinson seems pretty sexy to me, but I can’t explain why.
I definitely enjoy William Blake’s poems best as decoration for his engravings.
I don’t get the big deal about Robert Frost.
When I read Shakespeare, I don’t feel like I completely understand what’s happening or even what the characters are saying until I can see it happening on the screen or stage.
You still with me? Are we still friends?
I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I know this is a lot to process.
In my defense, there’s a lot of culture to take in, and we keep making more of it.
I am 43 years old and have been actively reading a book every day of my life since I was five. My Goodreads profile says I have read 462 books, but that’s just since I started keeping track in 2008.
I have read a lot of great stuff, both classic and contemporary, but there’s so much greatness I cannot take it all in.
My “To Watch” list is a hot mess. I hope to live long enough to see Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and 200+ other classic films that will make my life richer but one of my best friends loaned me the first three seasons of Game of Thrones on DVD over two years ago, and I still haven’t returned them. Sorry, not sorry.
There are 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. Movies last about 2 hours. You do the math. There’s a mathematical limit. I sleep, eat and work. I have a family. We do stuff together.
At this moment right now, I am listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s rendition of “Sarabande” from The Cello Suites Inspired by Bach. This gorgeous 6 minute and 36 second track is just one of 8706 songs in my iTunes library rated 4 stars or higher. It would take 25.6 days of continuous listening to hear all of those songs I love play just one time. I’m trying. I have a version of my playlist sorted by date last played and another which extracts only those songs I haven’t played in the past year. There are 621 songs on that list which would take 48 continuous hours to hear. I still buy music.
But I digress. I was telling you about how I haven’t read Of Mice and Men. Yet.
You and I live in a miraculous time amidst the staggering abundance of cultural riches. At any given moment, we can access visual, aural and written art created across most of recorded human history. It is, in fact, the absolute greatest time to be a person.
But our time is also one of scarcity. We have precisely as many hours in our day as Monet and Newton and Voltaire, yet we feel ourselves constantly time-starved. We pack our own lives with activity and distraction. We often feel the lack of time as if it is a thing that is being stolen from us, as if we are being robbed.
I am going to read Of Mice and Men and also Charles Dickens. Soon.
I am also going to keep watching movies and listening to music. I am going to read poetry and see brilliant (and not-so brilliant) productions of Shakespeare. I am going to keep writing things and and playing piano.
There is no end to it, no bottom to the list. I can’t take it all in. No one can. But we never stop trying because art is sustenance. Art feeds life. The books and poems and movies and songs and paintings and plays are not culture. What we do them is culture.
Abundance and scarcity. The absolute greatest time of all.