by Nick Paumgarten writing in The New Yorker January 28, 2008
Art Garfunkel (left)
Then there is Art Garfunkel, who is not running for President but who has nonetheless provided the world with a list: the Garfunkel Library, a chronological index of the thousand and twenty-three books that he has read since June, 1968. He has been recording their particulars neatly on sheets of loose-leaf paper—forty or so titles to a page—for nearly forty years. About a decade ago, he posted the list on his Web site (which he pays a fan in Levittown to maintain). It begins with Rousseau’s “Confessions” and ends with Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which he finished before Christmas. In between, the list ticks off, at a rate of 2.16 books a month, a dazzling syllabus that’s a testament to steroidal self-improvement, as well as to the magical time-furnishing powers of royalty checks. Foucault, Balzac, Chesterton, Heidegger, Spinoza, Hazlitt, Milton, Proust: he has slayed them all, and let us know.
The list contains just—just—enough low- or middle-brow work to suggest sincerity. In the spring of 1996, between “Flaubert in Egypt” and “I, Claudius,” he took on “You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again,” by Robin, Liza, Linda, and Tiffany. In February, 2004, he gave Dan Brown a go before returning to Flaubert and Aristophanes. He has read several books by the actress Carrie Fisher, one of Simon’s ex-wives, as well as “Simon and Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography” (in May, 1998, two years after it was published, and just before moving on to Plato and Locke).
“I read for the reading pleasure, not for the gold star,” he went on. “Reading is a way to take downtime and make it stimulating. If you’re in the waiting room of a dentist’s office and don’t want to twiddle your thumbs, you turn to Tolstoy.” (“Tolstoy is the king of writing,” he said.) Garfunkel prefers paperbacks, which he shelves in his study when he’s done. He writes vertical lines in the margin next to passages he finds exceptional, arrows next to references to places he’d like to visit, and a little circle next to any word he needs to look up. “I’m anal compulsive,” he explained. He once read the Random House Dictionary, back to front.
Though he has yet to update the Garfunkel Library on the Web, he recently finished reading “The Black Swan,” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which Simon had recommended. Garfunkel had just left a message on Simon’s answering machine, asking whether he had skipped a chapter that the author had suggested the reader skip: “Did you do that, Paul?”
He hadn’t heard back. If Simon were to reply that he had not, would Garfunkel feel—
“One-upped?” Garfunkel asked. He laughed. “Paul is, after all, one of our greatest writers.” (He did say that while Simon was born three weeks earlier, technically he was older. “I was conceived first. Paul was one month premature.”)
Asked what was on deck, in the Garfunkel Library, Garfunkel sighed and said, “You know, I’m getting tired of reading. I’m thinking of giving it a rest for a couple of months.” ♦