I haven’t written about books for a long time – even though reading is one of my great passions and fills up all my available time (when I’m not working, sewing, hanging out with my family, playing music, doing union business, writing… damn, I don’t get enough reading time do I?). For my birthday Brian gave me signed first edition copies of Umberto Eco’s Baudolino (which I have read and loved), as well as Orhan Pahmuk’s The Museum of Innocence (which I started reading yesterday) – in addition to a signed book of poetry by Carl Sandburg. Spoilt, I know!
I’ve got stacks of books to read at the moment, owing to the $70 in trade credit I got by turning in some stuff at McLeod’s on Saturday, plus my library habit has kicked in again recently. With a few diversions, I’m pretty much sticking to the 1001 books list (above) with a goal of getting my numbers up to 200 in 2011. As much as I’m trying not to let the list dictate all my reading (Pahmuk doesn’t show up anywhere on it, neither does Žižek), I have really appreciated having grand plan to my reading in addition to being pointed towards stuff I would normally never read.
Take David Markson’s Vanishing Point: A Novel which I read early this week. This is experimental fiction of the type I would normally never pick up – a series of “index cards” transcribed to manuscript as the author undergoes some kind of cathartic event related to aging in the background. On each index card is a fact, a piece of trivia, or the date and place of death relating to well-regarded composers, writers and artists throughout history – and the scant narrative can really only be inferred from those facts, though I’m not sure you could even call it narrative. In any case, it’s the kind of book I would never pick up of my own accord. And yet Markson’s writing is so incredible – each fact is comprised of a perfect sentence or two, and the way in which he groups and arranges them do belie very much the crisis of an author nearing the end of his life. The cadence of the writing draws one along, even as the writing bounces from one idea to the next – making for a nice little ride through the trivial and the profound.
Or take Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, one of the trade credit books I got Saturday and read over the weekend. This is a book I have always meant to read but never got around to – and I’m pretty pleased that the list finally guided me there. It’s no small testament to Capote’s writing that when you pick up In Cold Blood in 2011 it seems a tad cliched – not because he was conforming, but because this one book spawned a whole genre of writing (crime non-fiction, literary non-fiction) that has been emulated ever since. Not to mention the simultaenously evocative and authentic language Capote uses to write the tragic events that befell the Clutter family and their killers in 1959. I’m not a huge fan of crime-writing generally – not being one for gory details and all (this book is full of them), but one can’t help but get the sense of the “time-capsule” that this work reprsents. A snapshot of America at a particular time and place, and the birth of a new kind of writing – there are few American books from that time period that carry the same weight sixty years later.
Probably my favourite book of late, Diary of a Bad Year by JM Coetzee, isn’t on the list of 1001 Books though almost everything else he’s written is. Again, this is experimental fiction of the type I thought I wouldn’t like – but Brian brought this home from People’s Co-op Books after cashing in a gift certificate there at Christmastime and I thought I’d give it a try. Told in three parts simultaneously (1) Rumination/Essays 2) Narrative, one character’s point of view 3) Narrative, second character’s point of view), Coetzee’s Diary explores the fundamental divide between social democratic and neoliberal views as amplified by two male characters. A third character in the form of a thirty-something year old woman who at first appears mainly interested in status and appearances is ultimately the screen on which these two egos end up projected. Which I’ve just made sound dry as hell, I know – but it’s a book hard to describe and full of interesting and beautiful thoughts on a variety of subjects (war, politics, writing, music, love) while at the same time carrying a simple narrative from start to finish that leaves you wanting to know how it all turns out for the protaganist. I really loved this book and have it on the shelf as a “return-to” as it is a book meant for further reflection.
Of course there are lots of books I have read recently that don’t merit much of a mention (from the list and not) but each of these is definitely worth a peruse whether you care about 1001 books or not!