So I was engaging in my usual Sunday morning activity of perusing book reviews online when I came across an article about anticipated books for the spring noting the publication next month of an English-language translation of Rüdiger Safranski's biography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. What is a cause for celebration for fans of literary biography is a source of annoyance for me, because it only highlights the fact that I still haven't read the two Goethe biographies I already own.
I have Benjamin Schwarz to thank for introducing me to Goethe. Before then, Goethe was one of those names, like Moliere and Cervantes, whom I saw listed as a seminal writer of the European canon but whose works I never had any exposure to or interest in reading. Then I read a review by Schwarz in the Atlantic Monthly in which he praised Nicholas Boyle's ongoing multi-volume biography of Goethe in words that piqued my interest. Before long not only did I have the two volumes in my collection but the Suhrkamp edition of Goethe's works as well. I'm proud to say that I've been working my way slowly through the volumes of Goethe's writings, but Boyle's tomes remain unread.
Hence my dilemma: how can I justify getting a highly-praised biography of Goethe when I haven't read the two that are already on my shelves? My ongoing shelf-space issues aside, it feels like a waste to have acquired Boyle's much-lauded books if I end up reading Safranski's biography -- because, to be honest, reading both works simply isn't in the cards given all of my other reading commitments. So what is a bibliophile to do?