Sometimes I get a craving for sushi. Nothing but a thickly sliced, buttery, creamy piece of sashimi will do. Other times, I can’t countenance getting raw fish for dinner. How insubstantial! Give me something I can really dig my teeth into instead. Something large, something to puff out my stomach, something to transform my walk into a waddle after the meal. A generous serving of the ultra-spicy Kung Pao chicken will do every well!
Books, too, are like cravings for me. Sometimes I absolutely enjoy an intimate, hug-the-readers-to-its-bosom memoir; other times, I’m repulsed by such mushy details of a stranger’s life. Don’t give me mush; give me death. I want blood and gore, people dying on crusades for silly reasons, excessive cruelty, and straightforward narratives of tumultuous events. Wars? Plagues? Pestilence? Famines? Count me in! Still other times, I prefer cool, objective neutrality — something from the physical sciences, the history of an idea, even a chunk from that most bloodless of subjects, mathematics.
I think such moods are natural, even if no one (certainly not I) knows nor cares whence they’re from. Like explanations for day-to-day stock market movements, the kind where pressed journalists write quick bites on why the markets crashed/soared/barely budged today but the explanations are noteworthy for their inconsistencies, their after-the-fact, drawing-a-target-where-the-arrow landed quality, those for why a book is a must-read now when it was neglected for months on the shelf only yesterday are neither to be trusted nor plumbed.
That said, I still find it very strange that I only made it through a couple of pages of Martin Dugard’s Into Africa the first time I picked it up, thus letting it languish disconsolately on the bottom shelf, stewing in the northern California heat for who knows how long, before with nary a change, devoured it in two sittings. What gives?