Wednesday, October 30, 2013
in search of good reading
Winter looms here in Maine and I am feeling stymied about what to read next. During cold weather I usually immerse myself in a long-term reading project, something that will both stretch my intellectual capacity and lend a sense of purpose to what otherwise might look like simply giving up and going off to bed at seven or eight p.m. every evening. In a word, hibernating. But if I do so with tome in hand, I can instead say to myself, I'm reading volume VI of the Diary of Samuel Pepys, or I'm reading volume III of The Letters of Samuel Johnson, or One more week and I will have finished all of Montaigne's Essays! Two birds with one stone - books become building blocks for a kind of blissful self-education which thankfully has no end, and the winter passes by imbued with a greater sense of purpose. This has been an organic process, as usually books present themselves at regular intervals, practically begging to be read next. I develop an interest, then a tendency, then books collect in little windrows around these topics, whatever they might be, and I am all set for another couple of months. But this year, no such luck. The books on my bedside table tell the tale. They are all over the place. An art book, another art book, a third art book, a biography of a writer, a history book, some collected essays.
A few ideas involving reading something more challenging did flit across my mind, but were only met with rejection. For example.
Shakespeare? I have a parent who has been immersed in the plays and poetry for decades, and frankly (and sadly) the works of the bard make me a little nauseous at this point.
Proust? Again with the parents - my biological father says my mother divorced him because he spent an entire winter sitting in a chair reading Proust and smoking his pipe. Needless to say this is not my mother's version of events. I have given Proust a try, twice, and can't get past Within a Budding Grove. I chalk it up to childhood conditioning.
Anthony Powell? I've owned a set of A Dance to the Music of Time for fifteen years. Actually I had two sets, the attractive paperbacks from the University of Chicago Press, and the U.S. first editions. I sold the first editions a few years ago in one of my attempts to downsize the contents of our book room. Having two sets of the same books that I may never read, well. One set is enough. Of books that I may never read. (I mean, for god's sake.) Now I find myself eyeing the paperbacks as well, and thinking, Fifteen years? Unread? Off with their heads!
Angela Thirkell? Now we're getting somewhere. I have had multiple recommendations regarding this writer, of whom I know little and have read less. And yet I find myself with eight of her books. Eight! And there's an Angela Thirkell Society! Stumbling blocks: I'd need to acquire reprints of her early books, since I'd want to read them in chronological order; and, her books are mostly set in Trollope's Barsetshire, and I have read zero Trollope, so her allusions will be lost on me. Should I read Trollope first? People I know and respect love Trollope. The whole problem seems overwhelming, and so my Thirkell books languish, unread.
Thus I find myself seriously considering re-reading all of Patrick O'Brian. For the fifth time. Help! Is anyone reading anything absolutely splendid?
Monday, October 07, 2013
a love hate relationship
The lures of technology are many, it seems. I often admire what the internet hath wrought - this morning, for example, I looked at a few blogs I like, I ordered some art supplies not available in my area, and a book came in the mail, again ordered online since it was not available locally - but other times, not so much.
Case in point. Ryan and I went out for supper last night at the cafe at the local health food store (best salads around - huge, organic, homegrown, etc). In the cafe, we were the only people with no devices. Man in the corner had a laptop and a mobile, and was going back and forth between the two, while mostly ignoring his plate of food. Man on the side wall had a notebook and was watching something with the sound on (we were sitting less than five feet away from him and found this rather shocking). Two women at the next table were carrying notebooks, but they were off and just sitting on the table, inert, as the women conversed. Couple at the table behind us were both on mobile devices the entire time we were there and spoke perhaps three sentences to each other (nothing requiring actual dialogue, however). Young woman on the other side wall had an open flip phone but appeared to be concentrating on her supper, not the phone. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Man in the Corner was playing some kind of a game on his mobile device, one that made an audible clicking noise every time he made a move, which was often. Click. Click click. Click click clickety click. The only time he stopped was to take a bite, and once, to address someone else who came into the cafe, an acquaintance, to ask him if he'd watched "the youtubes" he'd emailed recently. Man #2 said no, please re-send, and Man in The Corner said he'd do it right now, and turned away, to his laptop, to do just that.
So, this is now acceptable behavior, it seems. Related thought - perhaps the cafe should disconnect its free wifi. So people can, like, you know, simply eat and be together.
Thankfully, just before we left, a young couple came in, sat down, and proceeded to eat their supper and pay attention to each other and their surroundings. And Ryan and I were there, to share a giant salad, catch up after a busy weekend spent largely apart, and gaze into each other's eyes. So this little rant is a tempest in a teapot. Still, the scene in the cafe has me thinking. About technology, connectivity, and relationships real and imagined. About loneliness and togetherness. I love the internet. I hate the internet.