Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reading Binge - Since I've Already Told What I Haven't Read, Here's What I Actually Have

I've been reading a lot lately in the evenings, which is possibly because I've run out of Lost episodes to watch back-to-back and haven't really gotten addicted to anything new. Some of it has been fairly light reading - I confess that my addiction to the Shopaholic series was indulged last night when I stayed up to 5 a.m. to finish "Sopaholic & Baby."

"Rise and Shine" by Anna Quindlen was a rather light read too, but more interesting. My favourite quote of the book was this:
I'd often thought before that the distance from Saturday night to Monday morning is greater than thirty-six hours would suggest. From dinner date to desk, from house party to 9:00 A.M. class, from drunken sex with a stranger to numb on the subway. It's as though one has nothing to do with the other, as though the woman in the slip dress dancing in Chelsea with her hair unfurled behind her like a signal flag is a different person from the woman in the black pantsuit and dark glasses standing on the corner two blocks over flagging down a cab...
The narrator amused me a lot and I liked her: "I was the maiden aunt, that staple of fiction and movies and real life, the one who is attentive and adoring and just a little odd, who takes the kid places and has the conversations the parents can't or won't have." Like my opinion of myself, I guess, minus the attentive - hard to do attentive with a 24 hour flight between you and the nieces. I hated the end of this book - it seemed an odd let down to the story, but up until then I was rather enjoying it. I finished it off on the bus ride back from my trip down south 3 weeks ago - it was the perfect travelling read, actually. Light, largely plot-driven, but with enough character development to keep me interested. "I loved it," I said, which like most simple declarative sentences was an oversimplification merged with a lie and overlaid by the mists of blessed memory."

I loved Donna Tartt's last book. I don't think you can be a Classics student of any kind and not have read "The Secret History." In fact, when I bought "The Little Friend" from What the Book, I did wonder if I already owned it back in Canada. I have a hard time remembering what I might have owned, or just coveted, or maybe have even read already. Anyway, I really liked it, though it was nowhere near as cool as "The Secret History." It was one of those books that really drew me into its world and I have never so much as set foot in the American South. The two families are fascinating, as is the narrator. It reminded me in part of lazy childhood summers, stretching out endlessly, with that odd mixture of boredom and excitment. It's one of those books that I really loved, will even keep and take home with me, and yet I have almost nothing to say about it.

Next up was "Love Medicine" by Louise Erdrich. I didn't like it, which annoys me as it's one of the few books I've ever bought new here. Parts of it were fine and the interrelated stories of the families living on the reservation were generally very interesting, but the narrative voice changed every damn chapter. Some of them I just didn't like, but in general, I'm not a huge fan of huge style changes. I can find it hard enough to handle between books, much less many times within one. I'd read a chapter and love it but then hate the next one. I plan on hitting up the bookstore tomorrow, and this one is about to be traded. Identity is an interesting thing - the author is billed very much as a Native American author. Yet, in the ubiquitous reader's guide it beomes obvious that she sees herself as following the Catholic traditions as much as Ojibwe ones.

Another dud was "On Beauty" by Zadie Smith. I loved "White Teeth" so much and had high expectations for this one, but somehow a story of a series of affairs conducted in and around the ivory towers fell rather flat. I rather liked parts of Zora's character, especially that she feels that she is labelled as opinionated but feels in fact that she has no opinions, that she could have argued things either way. And there's a nice scene when the siblings bump into each other by accident one day and enjoy spending time together, for all that they don't really get involved in each other's lives generally. But, basically, quite a boring book that feels like it never really goes anywhere.

An amusing, quick read was "The Timewaster Letters" by Robin Cooper. It's funny how many people replied to his bullshit and took him seriously. I also found "A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian" by Marina Lewycka quite funny. A serious message wrapped up in humour - after an eleven hour teaching day, frankly that's the way I want any seriousness. I don't generally read for escapism (usually I read in a sort of self-help way - to gain insight into myself and the world through the characters), but this year I certainly have appreciated that sort of reading.

Ever thought it would be easier to buy a fake license from a terrorist than replace a genuine one in Italy? I loved maybe three-quarters of "How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays" by Umberto Eco. "The train, in America is not a choice. It is a punishment for, having neglected to read Weber on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, making the mistake of remaining poor," he writes. Ha! That is a perfect description for what the train between Winnipeg and Churchill was like. Leave the commuter train area and the tourist train route and the train becomes a different beast altogether. In regards to the three main types of cell phone users who can use it at will, the handicapped, people needed in emergencies like doctors and firemen and adulterers, he says: "Indeed, for the first two we are willing to be disturbed even while dining in a restaurant, or during a funeral; and adulterers are very discreet, as a rule.

"How to Organize a Public Library" brought back fond memories. "1. The various catalgues must be housed as far apart as possible from one another. All care must be taken to separate the catalgue of books from that of periodicals, and these two from the catalogue by subject; similarly, the recent aquisitions must be kept well away from older collections." That is the University of Edinburgh library right there. To do an archaeology paper, I'd start at the Archaeology library, then move to the main library, where there were two different classification systems, used for older and newer books, which were also kept on completely different floors. Point 17, "If possible, no rest rooms. reminds me of Queen's and the controversy that started when the new library was built and people opposed putting tampon machines in the womens' washrooms. As someone pointed out, far less crass to have women bleed all over the books than lower the library to selling something of any kind!

The best of the essays for me was "How to Justify a Private Library."
[For] people who possess a fairly sizable library (large enough in my case that someone entering our house can't help but notice it; actually, it takes up the whole place.), visitors enter and say, "What a lot of books! Have you read them all?" At first I thought that the question characterized only people who had scant familiarity with books . . . but there is more to it than that. I believe that, confronted by a vast array of books, anyone will be seized by the anguish of learning and will inevitably lapse into asking the question that expresses his torment and his remorse.

In the past I adopted a tone of contemptuous sarcasm. "I haven't read any of them; otherwise, why would I keep them here?" But this is a dangerous answer, because it invites the obvious follow-up: "And where do you put them after you've read them?" The best answer is the one always used by Roberto Leydi: "And more, dear sir, many more," which freezes the adversary and plunges him into a state of awed admiration. But I find it merciless and angst-generating. Now I have fallen back on the riposte: "No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office," a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure.

1 comment:

Francesca Maggi said...

What an excellent blog! I have long thought about the Protestant-Capitalism thing by Umberto Eco, which might go a long way to explaining Life in Italy!
I can't wait to read the book.

As for me, I have posted many a blog on the "fabulous" train systems in Italy (and I'm actually a fan)...