Saturday, November 18, 2006

18: books read and unread

Two things of great excitement: clearing out my "currently reading" list and figuring out how to add chunks of text to my sidebar. This is a fabulous way for me to look at quotes and poetry that I really like. (Related-but-not-really: does anyone know something that can write on mirrors but also washes off really well after some time has passed? I want to write poems on my bedroom and bathroom mirrors to aid in memorization. And because it's the next best thing to writing them on my walls.)

This week hasn't been all doctor visits and days in bed! Okay, well, it sort of has, but somehow I've also managed to finish a load of books and get halfway through two new ones. I didn't even a chance to add the books on William Carlos Williams and H.D. that I read before finishing them. They were for school, kind of, and I don't know anyone who wants to hear reviews of literary criticism, so I won't bother with that.

Some notes on books finished and reading:
  • For the sake of honesty, I feel like I should note that I didn't actually finish Midnight's Children or An Unquiet Mind. I will finish the Rushdie another time -- I love him, but I think he's one of those authors for me that I can only read at wide-spaced intervals to appreciate, and apparently three of his books in seven months is not giving enough time in between -- but I am done with An Unquiet Mind. It's a self-described "memoir of madness" (I'll talk another time about the problematic semantics of using the word "madness" to describe mental illness), which means that it is exactly like the other dozen autobiographies of mental illness that I've read. Because Kay Jamison has a PhD in psychology and specializes in bipolar disorder, I had hoped that it would be more insightful, but it followed the exact same formula as all of the others: idyllic childhood full of promise or, more rarely, hellish family life and abuse; stirrings of problems in mid to late adolescence; descent into illness that might include drugs, promiscuity, very stupid life decisions, financial ruin, estrangement from friends and family, or refusal to work with doctors; eventual culmination in suicide attempts which, in turn, lead to realization that life is beautiful and worth living, something that inevitably occurs while struggling in the death-grip of the drugs (because they are always drugs for women); and a conclusion that involves fervent commitment to drugs and therapy and the promise that everything is going to be all right even if it's still tough right now. I didn't need to read the last section of the book to know that the ending would be just like this, except probably with a bit of preaching about how people who suffer from bipolar disorder are more creative and brilliant than mere mortals.
  • So far I am really enjoying both The Tin Drum and Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, though I'm worried that I'm starting to stall on both of them.
  • I will probably be reading The Fall of Berlin until Christmas or some other comparably distant point in the future. I'm not enjoying it: it's brutal and confusing, and I feel like I need to have a huge military map of East Germany and Russia just to be able to understand all of the movement of troops and the battles. But I'm not reading it for fun. It's research, and it's important, so I'll keep at it, even if I can only read about fifteen pages at a time before having to stop and try to figure out which Field Marshall is which, and why does Stalin like this guy so much anyway when he hates everyone else?
I am a compulsive book buyer, but I am also a devotee of libraries, so even though I read a lot, I own a shameful amount of unread books. So when I saw the From the Stacks Reading Challenge, of course I had to join. The challenge is to read five books that you already own before the new year. Here are my five, with short comments on each:

  1. The Art Spirit, Robert Henri -- My favourite uncle gave this to me after listening patiently to my ecstatic descriptions of The Dehumanization of Art by Ortega y Gasset. I want to read this one as soon as possible, since it is so rude to leave gifts languishing on shelves.
  2. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami -- I got this book from a friend exactly a year ago. I gave her Lolita in return. She took my Nabokov with her to Europe and read it in cafes in Paris, but I still haven't read her Murakami. This must be remedied! (Though I did at least read Kafka on the Shore, so at least we got to have some conversation about his style.) She's in Israel now, and I need to read this book so I'll at least have something to write about in my next letter.
  3. The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon -- I haven't had this one for very long. I just really want to read it.
  4. The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow -- This is a beautiful hardcover that I bought at a used book sale for a dollar. I predict that out of all these books, it is most likely to be the downfall of this challenge. It looks like a stab at the Great American Novel. And I am really not interested in the Great American Novel right now. Also, it's really long, and I can clearly foresee my reading-blocked mind floundering and stagnating once I hit the 300 page mark. But he won a Nobel, and I've been trying to read at least one book by all of the Nobel laureates. I should probably read Humbolt's Gift instead, since it also won the Pulitzer I think, but this is the one I have.
  5. Still Life, A. S. Byatt -- Out of all the books on this list, I've had this one on my shelf for the longest. I bought it just after I read Possession, which was, um, almost six years ago. I loved Possession, and I can't remember why I haven't read any of Byatt's other books. Also, I realize now that the main character is a Wordsworth scholar, which just thrills me. Wordsworth is one of my ex dead poet boyfriends. (These days he's been replaced by Rilke, but I still love him anyway.)
If this challenge works I will probably try to do something like it every month. The more books I read, the more I can justify buying!

5 comments:

Mrs.Chili said...

Don't dry-erase markers work on mirrors?

I'll post more here later today about your books - I've got to head off to teach my Sunday morning step class and I don't want to be late. I LOVE talking lit!

Mrs.Chili said...

"These days he's been replaced by Rilke, but I still love him anyway."

I love, Love, LOVE Rilke. My favorite poem of his, You Darkness, is one that has yet to pop up in either of the two anthologies of his work that I have. Weird.

I am your book-buying sister (witness this as proof: http://theinnerdoor.blogspot.com/2006/04/some-women-buy-shoes.html). I have a used book store that would cause my immediate and precipitous financial ruin were it located any closer to me - its inconvenient location and distance are the only things keeping me from losing all control. You seem to have been given books you haven't read yet - I'm the moron who buys books she doesn't read. I have several books that I've not yet read, but I know better than to think that I'll get through five of them before the New Year.

I'll be more likely to see some of the DVDs I've bought and haven't seen yet. Our video store had a "5 for $20" sale last month, and I came away with a bunch of movies that I'd heard raves about, but never saw (Walk the Line, Million Dollar Baby, and Friday Night Lights among them). It was a huge leap of faith to buy the movies without knowing that I like them, but at 5 for $20, I didn't think the actual risk was too great...

I'm not sure that it's an actual sin to have books you haven't read. I mean, it's really a kind of affirmation for the future. Besides, if one has to collect something, let it be something like books!

feather said...

I have, at the moment, five books of Rilke's poetry on my shelf, as well as Letters to a Young Poet. I love him, but I am not completely satisfied with any of the translations that I have. I have actually been seriously considering trying to learn german just so I can read him. Well, and Freud -- shh, I know he's unpopular at the moment, and with good reason, but I find him fascinating if just for his incredible influence on so many spheres of study. And also hilariously funny at times.

The poem you mention is probably in one of them. I'm not familiar with it, but I'll have a look tonight.

This list is deceiving; I have a LOT of books that I've bought myself and haven't read. It's just that the gifts take precedence in deciding what to read because it seems so incredibly rude not to read the things that people give me. I have specifically chosen not to figure out the ratio of read to unread books in my collection because then I would have to face the seriousness of my compulsive book buying. In the last week ALONE I have bought three books that I cannot afford. But two of them are poetry, and I feel like buying poetry is always justifiable just because so few people do.

Some of my friends don't understand the book buying, and I don't understand why they don't understand! I really only have one friend who is more of a book buyer than I am, and that's only because she is an ascetic and has no problem giving up things like coffee and, um, food in order to support the used bookstore habit. I am constantly tempted by shiny things like old photographs and paper and bottles and music and yarn, but I have excellent self-control in buying things -- except books. That's okay with me, though. I agree that it's no sin to buy books.

It's worse when I am at school because some of the most famous bookstores in the country -- well, at least one of the most famous bookstores -- are only a short pilgrimage away. I'm going to have to set up a budget for next semester because I over the summer I compiled a gargantuan list of books to read and buy.

Is Ahab's Wife good? I think one of the libraries has it, but I haven't actually read Moby-Dick, so I've always passed it by. This wouldn't be a problem, but I've always sort of intended to read M.D. someday. I really like Melville's short stories. I keep waiting to magically develop a deep interest in whaling and all things nautical.

feather said...

Oh, oh, but did you ever get around to reading Cold Mountain? It's one of my favourite fiction books about the civil war.

I think it's obvious from the disjointedness of my comments that I usually write my letters entirely in post scripts to allow for maximum randomness.

Mrs.Chili said...

I love random, though not as much as I love parenthetical phrases!

I don't think that one needs to read Moby Dick to fully appreciate Ahab's Wife, though there was a VERY interesting thing that happened to me when I read about Ahab from the perspective of one who genuinely loves him. It was strange to think of Ahab as a man capable of love; we lit. types are practically conditioned to think of him as nothing but a prideful, selfish, single-minded man.

Oh, and you didn't ask for it, but this is my favorite poem:


You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything;
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them!—
powers and people—
and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.