Some time in the late ‘90s, I found out about a new sin. This sin didn’t exist before, but now it did. And I was committing it. “Don’t you check your email?” my friend from the Economics Department asked me. It was the first thing he said to me that day. Not “hi.” Not “Hey, what a pleasant surprise. I don’t get to see you every day.” Not even “I tried writing you, but since you’re right here, I’ll just go ahead and say face-to-face what I had to say.” Nope. It’s easier to accuse first and forget to ask forgiveness later.
“I sent you an email, and you didn’t answer it.” “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t have email.” “Yes, you do.” “No, I don’t.” “Yeah, you do. You work for OU, right?” “You know I work for OU. So do you.” “Everybody at OU has email. So you do, too.” “No, I really don’t have email.” “You do, and you just don’t know it.”
It wasn’t that long ago. So it hardly seems possible, but I didn’t know what the internet was. The web was especially confusing. Are they the same thing? Different? Is one the subset of the other? I knew that people surfed the net (that’s what the television commercials said), but I wondered what people did to the web. (Turns out we surf that, too, when we even bother with verbs anymore.)
I could never have predicted then that just fifteen years later, the internet would permeate my reading plan. I order all my books online now. I do half my reading on an electronic device I hold in one hand. Half of those books I download for free right from the web. I search guides and quotations using Google. And I blog about my experience. I couldn’t even have understood it if someone from 2014 could have told my 1998 self what my future reading program would consist of.
Yesterday I posted my calendar for 2015. (You can see it by clicking the tab marked – you guessed it – “2015 calendar” in the row just below the title bar above.) Year 9 of my Ten-Year Reading Plan. Amazing. Every year at this time I get the calendar for the new year drawn up, I look at it, and I bask in the thought of how much I’m going to enjoy it. But I think I’m even more excited this year than I have been since year 1. For one thing, I’m looking forward to pursuing my demanding self-imposed commitment of time over the course of a year that won’t include searching for jobs, interviewing, selling a house, packing, buying a house, moving, and starting a new job.
But the particular details of next year’s schedule have me especially eager to begin. First, of course, there’s the continuation of so many favorites that I pursue bit-by-bit each year: Durant’s Story of Civilization, Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, James’s Principles of Psychology, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Then there’s King Arthur. Not only do I get to finish Malory after thirty years of looking at it sitting on my shelf, but I finally get to read Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. My rereading includes Tristram Shandy, Don Quixote, Great Expectations, and The Lord of the Rings, all truly Great Books and all near the top of the list of my very favorite novels. Each one paints a rich picture of this complex world with all of its sweet pain, presenting its characters with all the missteps, bumbling, and downright evil of the human heart and yet acting in the light of a magnificent, splendid joy just as real as the set sun whose refracted rays dazzle the sky with their royal colors – and just as out of reach. The Rig Veda forever changed the way I read the Psalms; I wonder how the Bhagavad Gita will affect me. I’m even excited about reading Calvin’s Institutes, if only because this year will see me to the end of a book that has exasperated me so. I have only one slog I’m concerned about, but I’ll get through Heidegger, partly by reading Dickens and Ariosto at the same time.
I eventually read that first email. I had to call IT (or whatever IT was called back then) to hook up my office computer. When the technicians arrived and looked at it, they just laughed. So I bought a new one. Then they had to wire my 1908 building for internet; they got to my office by drilling through the 1908 wall – filled with 1908 asbestos – and draping a yellow cord across the room. I hooked up the computer and read and reread my instructions on how to FTP my email files. I waited for only about five minutes for the long-anticipated message to download. Eventually. after a process of some couple of months, I was sinning no more: I was reading the note from my colleague. Oh, yes, my digital reading experience has definitely improved since then. The email he was so anxious about was an invitation to lunch. He wanted to get together and talk.