One of the first friends I made after I began work at Vanderbilt in 1986 was Grace Zibart, then editor of The Vanderbilt Lawyer and associate editor of Vanderbilt Magazine. A native New Yorker, she had been assistant fashion editor at The New York Times before she married a Nashville boy, Carl Zibart, BA’29, at the close of World War II.
Carl and his brother, Alan, BA’31, owned and ran Zibart’s Bookstore. Grace was hopeless on a computer or behind the wheel, but she was a peerless writer and a great friend to aspiring writers. She seemed to know everyone on a first-name basis–Allen Tate and Robert “Red” Penn Warren and Al Gore and David Halberstam, sculptors and chefs and nuns.
Being invited to Grace’s and Carl’s home for dinner was always an event. On one such occasion, I remember Carl declaring over cocktails–there were always cocktails–that he had reached the point in life where, if he got 100 pages into a book and didn’t like it, he quit reading without guilt. He was past 80 at the time.
Grace died in 1999 and Carl in 2004. I’ve been thinking of them lately as my husband and I have been de-cluttering our own home, culling books we’ve accumulated during 30 years of marriage.
I’ve no qualms over giving up outdated travel guides, reference books made less essential by the Internet, and how-to books acquired back when I envisioned myself as someone who would make potpourri from my own roses and jam from my own peaches.
But what should I do with that stack in the corner of the loft, books I’ve started but never finished, a towering testimony to my failings as a reader? There’s Don Quixote, started when we were working on a Vanderbilt Magazine profile about Cervantes scholar Edward Friedman (Fall 2005 issue). Holding up a 940-page book in bed gave me reader’s cramp. There’s Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, abandoned after three chapters, in that corner longer than our troops have been in Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s The Satanic Verses, bought after Salman Rushdie visited Vanderbilt last year. I made it to page 83 before I bogged down; now the characters of Farishta and Chamcha have become a muddle and I need to start over. You’d think a book that created such furor would be more interesting.
There are a dozen more volumes in the corner, too, their covers curled and forlorn, spurned in favor of books I found more readable. I will be married nearly another 30 years before I reach the age Carl Zibart was when he cut himself some slack and stopped reading past page 100. I don’t think I have his fortitude. Cervantes and Rushdie are going into the Goodwill box; Friedman stays. The need to understand more about the Mideast isn’t going away anytime soon.