So Many Books, So Little Time

Re “Grasping at Enlightenment,” Commentary, March 29: James Atlas has captured precisely the growing sense of barely controlled frenzy that each year grasps ever more tightly this now 72-year-old lifelong serious reader. Visions and worlds I can only dream of are slipping away.

Since boyhood, I have wanted to read every book on the shelves. There was a time when I did one a day through endless summers. Four hundred pages at a crack were easy. “Copperfield” in two nights. “Martin Eden” in two more.

Now the days quickly dwindle down, 16 waking hours seeming like six, and even with all the time in the world and sufficient resources to pick up in minutes anything I want to read, the list of notables grows faster than I can turn pages: Tacitus, Gibbon, Thucydides, Suetonius look down in disapproval of my neglect.


Additional Faulkner, Twain, Dawn Powell and Dostoyevsky, Volkogonov, the new Don Quixote and old Herodotus. Flannery O’Connor and Abigail Adams. And Atlas’ own Bellow. There they are, six feet away, preempted for the moment by Henning Mankell, Robert Wilson, a newly purchased old LeCarre.

With the best of intentions and against my will, I doze. Seven minutes here, 11 there, the finest writing in the world awake on my lap. Pace slows. Presses run. A new Fuentes, a coming Marquez. A newly discovered piece of Hemingway. What’s an old man to do?

Gordon Cohn

Long Beach


I qualify as a boomer and listen to books on CD daily. This is not out of any urge to find late-life enlightenment. I just got sick of fascist radio talk shows.

Darcy Vernier

Marina del Rey