When I invest, I invest in books. A book is always there for you in times of need. One forms a relationship with a book which is deep, rich and rewarding; a relationship which evolves over the years, in ever-unexpected directions.
You cannot say the same for a power drill. A perfectly useful item, in its way, but with rather – shall we say – limited attributes. A power drill will not entertain, educate or enlarge your mind. It will not transport you to another world. Put it this way: I would rather be trapped on a desert island with a book than with a power drill.
This may explain why I have never invested in a power drill. When the occasion to utilize such an object arises, I fall back on more primitive methods. My tools are my hands. Indeed, I do not at present even own a hammer, all of which ensures that the process of screwing in a bracket is a slow, sometimes painful one. It is an adventure, no less; one which can last several days, creating as it does a fine collection of bruises and blisters.
There are, however, upsides. Weak old scholar that I am, I find I cannot stick to such tasks for very long. Screwing in a bracket to put up a blind – as I was doing this weekend – takes a lot of energy out of me, for which reason I tend to do it in fits and starts. I ascend the ladder, turn the screw a few times, take a deep breath, turn the screw a few more times, and then back down the ladder I go. Not to take a rest, I hasten to add, or to get myself a cup of tea. No, no, no. At the foot of the ladder I have placed a book of poems. To recover from the business of turning the screw, I turn to a poem. When tired of the poem, I return to the screw. The two activities feed each other: reading the poem prepares me for turning the screw, and vice versa.
The point of all of this is, of course, to serve as a reminder that reading works very well in conjunction with other activities. One might even argue that reading works best in conjunction with other activities (so Johannes Speyer would say). I’m not sure I would go this far. What I would say, though, is that short bursts of reading, taken in the gaps left by another project, are not to be under-estimated. I can quite honestly say that I got more out of my poems in this moment than I would have done had I been, for example, sitting peacefully in an armchair. Reading and life, it seems, are best taken together.