Gert is a great fan of the irrepressible A.E. Ellis, psychologist extraordinaire, who died in 2007 but lives on in the Rational Emotive school of psychology and in books like How to stubbornly refuse to make yourself miserable about anything – yes, anything! (Lyle Stuart, 1988). So it makes sense that she dreamt about him when she was stuck down recently by her recurrent malaise White Rabbit Syndrome (Kaninchenschmerz) in which she is running along the bank of a fast-flowing river of books saying, Oh dear oh dear I shall be too late.
Enter Albert Ellis. He is wearing a pork pie hat and tartan plus-fours and chomping on a cigarette.
Albert: So whatsa prahblem? Ya dahg died?
Gert: I haven’t got a dog.
Albert: So that’s one thing ya don’t hafta worry about. Is that good or is that good?
Gert: I suppose so.
Albert: Ya suppose so? What’s suppose got to do with it? Suppose is nutty, suppose is crumby. All ya gotta do is decide: is it good or isn’t it?
Gert: That I don’t have to worry about my dog dying because I haven’t got a dog?
Albert: Jesus Christ! Holy Moley! (bites off end of cigar and swallows it). See what ya doing? Ya don’t even have a dahg, so why are ya beating yaself up about it?
Gert: But it was you who started talking about dogs…
Albert’s hat explodes in a shower of fireworks. End of dream.
So no help from Albert. But if you too suffer from this condition, brought on by reading too many book reviews and articles about new books and classics you still haven’t read, you may take some comfort from David Bates’ article in The Millions:
Feeling overwhelmed by a profound sense of inadequacy brought on by the growing list of “Before You Die” lists, I recently hunted down a book that I suspect may have started it all – one that, at least, surely inspired the authors of books like ‘A Lifetime Reading Plan’ and ‘Book Lust’. ‘The List of Books: A library of over 3,000 works’ was published in 1981 by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.
Raphael and McLeish use a symbol system to flag the books, both fiction and non-fiction; there are categories of “major masterpiece”, “not to be missed”, “recommended for beginners” and so on.
These symbols of literary merit are liberally scattered throughout. Many titles have none; some boast as many as half a dozen — like Plato’s Phaedo, which is: 1) a particular pleasure to read, 2) a seminal book that changed our thinking, 3) a standard work on the subject, 4) recommended for beginners in the subject, 5) a major masterpiece that is 6) not to be missed.
One of the most interesting categories is “infuriating, possibly illuminating.” Bates is very funny on the subject of infuriating books and what it might mean to be “infuriating but possibly illuminating”.
What does that mean? Possibly illuminating? The author may sound like he’s on crack, but we concede he may be on to something? Or: If you’re not a complete imbecile, you may learn something by reading this book.
In the end, though, Raphael and McLeish’s list is no more use to us than Albert was. Rivers more books, authors, and scientific discoveries have flowed since 1981, and are still flowing. That’s a perverse comfort to sufferers of White Rabbit Syndrome. Albert would probably have got us to see, if the session had got off to a better start, that it’s completely crumby and nutty to panic because you haven’t read and can’t read everything you think you should.
Waaal, good luck with that one! says Albert.
And then along came this very nice article in The Guardian about “the joy of missing out”:
We must grasp that there’s always a limitless number of cool or meaningful things we’re not doing. Might we then relax?