Monday, September 3, 2012

A summer of reading

I started the summer of 2012 by reading Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

These were the first two books I read following my wife's death from breast cancer in May.

I wrote an essay about "returning to reading," and it was published by the literary blog Numero Cinq in July.

Other books I read over the summer:
- Off Book by Mark Sampson
- Hamlet by Shakespeare
- Fathers and Sons by Turgenev
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Flaubert in Egypt by Gustave Flaubert
- The Victim by Saul Bellow
- Widower's House: A Study in Bereavement (or how Margot and Mella forced me to flee my home) by John Bayley

I'm also poking my way through:
- A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain
- Essays and Aphorisms by Arthur Schopenhaur
- Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
- This Side Jordan by Margaret Laurence
- Saints of Big Harbour by Lynn Coady
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Long, Last, Happy by Barry Hannah

Do you see a pattern? I don't see a pattern.

Some of these books are works I've "meant to get to" and now find myself seeking out. Some I've picked up in used book shops. Others have been on a shelf in my house, ignored.

There's a lot of ribald reveling in the oddity of humanity in the above, but there's also some earthy earnestness.

I found in Turgenev cynicism that was starkly contemporary, and in Huck Finn's Mississippi adventure a freakishness consistent with the current U.S. election cycle.

I felt Hamlet's pain as my own, and, like Sampson's protagonist, remembered how wild and liberating the internet seemed in the 1990s.

Bellow's early novel contains both his trademark singing souls and bureaucratic absurdity of a Beckettean order.

But Flaubert in Egypt? Twain in Germany? Alien and eccentric. The diversity of human weirdness is duly noted.

Schopenhaur? I read the first paragraph and laughed. Likely not what he intended, but there is a dark humour there that I've seen before and like. I went to Schopenhaur after reading The Pugilist at Rest by Thom Jones. Schopenhaur is referenced throughout that book, and I was curious for more. The introduction compares Schopenhaur to "our own great pessimist" (Shakespeare), and I hadn't thought of the Bard that way before. I'd thought of him as a poet of chaos (like Bob Dylan). But pessimist? Hmm.

A Sentimental Education I'm drawn to, I think, because it's other worldly. Most of my life I've felt more akin with 20th century literature and not much desire about the 19th century so-called masters. But this summer that has changed. The contemporary has become fraught and I want to read the back catalog.

Early Margaret Laurence, set in Africa. Curious. Barry Hannah, the selected. Wild and wonderful. Lynn Coady just because I haven't got around to that one yet.

I started my essay on Woolf and Beckett without a voice, or with the most meager of voices, and with the faintest of ears. I was only getting one frequency, and I couldn't make out the full signal.

I can hear more now. I can speak more now. But the world is different. There has been a break from the past that will never heal.  Beauty, however, remains, and much else. A deeper recognition of the mixed-up-ness of everything. A recognition that there is no resolution, no end to the storytelling.

The mighty river of literature just rolls on and on.