Wednesday 9 November 2011

I miss those days of jam and idleness

My reading is all over the place lately; it's taking me a long time to finish things, in part because Autumn hasn't been very cold and I've been cycling like a fiend. I've also been working on the 4th Annual Totally Fabulous Vegan Bake-Off because its inventor and fearless leader, Lisa, is off to distant lands to talk to people about raw food. She's a brave and lovely lady.

But I have been reading. I've been plodding my way (enthusiastically! but it's still plodding) through The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom for months now. There are two things you need to know about children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom: 1) She wrote fantastic letters. (E.g., "Someday very soon I'm going to write you a great letter. But not today.") 2) She discovered the genius that is Maurice Sendak and it's her we have to thank for the timeless, wild rumpus that is Where the Wild Things Are.

Letters take me a long timeI read one and then I feel as though I'm done with that author for at least a few months; short stories are the same. It's absurd. My sleepy snail pace with this collection has been exacerbated by the fact that the first copy I borrowed from the library fell to pieces in my hands, and there are only two circulating copies; I may not be able to immediately renew it when my time is up.

(This book was recommended to me by Rohan Maitzen, who is much better at storming through books than I am, unless those books are by David Mitchell.)

I'm also slogging through cult favourite The Dog of the South, by Charles Portis. It began like a beautiful, hilarious, silly dream; there was a deer's head mounted on the wall of a seedy bar, and that deer had a smoke in its mouth...but then, I don't know. The book just deflated and while I'm 2/3 of the way through I don't know if I can bring myself to even finish it. I honestly don't know how a book that began by making me laugh, and out loud like a stupid git at that, every 20 lines or so can have become so totally dull and uninspired.

And I feel wretched that I don't love this bookKevin recommended it because he loved it so. But you know, we actually often don't love each other's favourites. I thought Soucy's The Immaculate Conception was brilliant; he objected that it didn't always make sense, and not in a charming way. He loves Cormac McCarthy, who I think is very clever only for having made it as a famous writer who generally can't write complete sentences. We tend to agree completely only on Cloud Atlas; but that is more than enough to build a friendship on.

Rohan, again, directs my reading life: After 13 years, I'm re-reading The Mill on the Floss, which I first read in her George Eliot graduate seminar; she's teaching it again now to some undergraduates. I'd been hoping to read along and write a series of posts worthy of my eddication as I did with Romola last year. However, while I think I love the book much more now than I did in 1998, I just don't have the time; those Romola posts took me hours and hours, and as I worked in a bookstore then, it seemed much easier to find time to spend hours and hours thinking and writing about books.

I lament not giving this novel the attention it deserves, but I'm happy that it seems to have reignited my enthusiasm for my Victorian Lit projectwhich I am absolutely not going to jeopardize again by trying, again, to read Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond! I might even skip Villette and go right back to Dickens, just to be safe.

Then there are all these books I haven't even cracked, the most important being my Lisbon guidebook and my Portuguese phrase book. I really, really should look at these books, as we're heading to Portugal in just over a month...but somehow it just keeps not happening. I keep finding myself busy with something else. God, I'm such an irresponsible pre-traveller!


Kevin said...

I didn't know you studied with Rohan. Reading your post - and thank you for the kind words about Cloud Atlas and friendship - has helped set me straight on a certain something that's gotten me all bent out of shape when it I write about reading. So thank you for that, too. Anyhow. I was supposed to read G. Eliot a year or two ago. I've been diverted apparently. Maybe after my Jim Harrison binge, I'll find my way to Middlemarch. I'm looking at it right now. It's just sitting there. A big fucking book. K

J.G. said...

Oh, I don't know. Plenty of time to read the guidebooks while you ought to be packing. Or, if that fails, on the plane.

Meanwhile, sounds like you are using your limited time wisely! I agree on letters and short stories -- I can never seem to build any reading momentum because they are always ending just as I am getting interested.

And yes, Cloud Atlas is plenty to build a friendship on.

Anonymous said...

Enthusiastic plodding--strangely useful concept!

After reading True Grit this spring I was wondering why people weren't reading Portis all over the place. and fearing he might be a one-good-book man. Hope it isn't so. I'm inspired laugh aloud so seldom, I make it a point never to feel guilty (or gitty) for it, unless I've been drinking, and I don't read when I've been drinking.

Bookphilia said...

Kevin: Middlemarch stares reproachfully at me too; you're not alone.

J.G.: The thing is, I used to *love* short stories. Frank O'Connor's and Yukio Mishima's are particularly brilliant. I really don't know what happened. :(

villanegativa: Not drinking while reading seems incredibly sensible.

As for enthusiastic plodding, I've lost a deal of my enthusiasm about Dear Genius recently. One of my cats knocked it on the floor and I lost my place so I picked up where I thought I left off. But I find myself reading 10 pages and then noting I've read the letter in question before, but don't recall having before read the preceding ones, though I must have. Also, in one letter she quotes one line from Moby Dick and that has made me want to abandon here and re-read Melville, whose writing is utterly unforgettble...