When a guy makes a ten-year reading plan, he has to accept that his mind won’t be fully ready for deep engagement with books day after day for 3653 straight turns of the sun. A year or two before I started this blog, a family crisis left me barely able to follow classic Spider-Man comics. My notes on The Plan from that time are very sketchy, and I remember virtually nothing about some of the listed books I read during that time. But I kept reading, both Great Books and Spider-Man (which is pretty great in its own way), and I’m glad I did.
This month I’m mentally exhausted from some major life transitions and some grueling work. (I’m well over the upper threshold on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.) I found Middlemarch too taxing, but I want to keep up with the list, just as I did several years ago. So I set Eliot aside about halfway through and picked up Patrick O’Brian instead. In one way, The Commodore and The Yellow Admiral have provided the perfect remedy: volumes 17 and 18 in a series that I love, populated with familiar characters that I don’t have to figure out. But O’Brian doesn’t write prose to be instantly understood, filled as it is with jargon, mysteries, and unfamiliar cultural detail. On the other hand, those very factors play a huge part in drawing me back to Captain Jack Aubrey and polymath Stephen Maturin. So I’m just sailing along with them, following where the trade winds lead, not worrying too much about understanding what I don’t understand, and instead just taking it all in as atmosphere. In fact, a couple weeks of sea air is probably exactly what I need to recover some strength of mind.