07 July 2015

A Unified Theory on Reading, or maybe just a late night ramble

Last week, I finished reading a big, chewy, absorbing trilogy - the Magicians trilogy, by Lev Grossman.

[The trilogy is so good. I liked the first book, I thought the beginning of the second book was a bit tedious, but by the end of the second book, I HAD to get the ebook of the 3rd out of the library right that very minute and I simply couldn't put it down until I was done. It's rich and complicated, and it ends beautifully - so while I'm sad to be done, I also feel like it's all tied up pretty well.]

And then we went away for the weekend, and I packed four books - all of which I was in the middle of - into my bag. And I bought a fifth book at a terrific independent bookstore that I'd never been in - the kind of bookstore that's worth a detour through Saugerties if you happen to be in that general area.

The thing is, none of them were novels. I needed a palate cleanser after the Magicians. So I spent the weekend flitting between a graphic novel, a short story collection, and a gardening book of the short literary pieces ilk.

I found myself reading aloud to my forbearing husband from The Well-Tempered Garden; Lloyd writes with unwavering conviction and a delightful snarkiness. About some azaleas: "Their heavy, sweet, slightly putrid scent is a great attraction to those with a weak sense of smell, but overbearing to my way of thinking." On why you shouldn't edge your lawn: "But there is something profoundly depressing about a long, unbroken cliff of lawn edge." And reminding me that I need a cotinus coggygria: "Dew seen on this pink froth is such an experience that you'll wonder why you do not spend more time in the garden in the early morning."

Later, he talks of a combination of an orange lily and a pink alstroemeria: "They clashed well as a one-time gardener of ours used to say." I particularly liked that, given that the garden outside my bedroom was a riot of wild orange daylilies and screaming fuchsia roses.

Lydia Davis is something else. I'd never heard of her before I found her quoted in a piece in the New Yorker, by James Wood, called "Becoming Them" which is about becoming one's parents. It's a lovely essay, actually, but the reason I've been carrying around a grubby paper copy of it was because of the few lines of Davis, some of which follow:

Shall I keep a tidy house, like L.?
Shall I live alone in a large house, like B.?
Shall I give piano lessons, like M.?
Shall I leave the butter out all day to soften, like C.?

[I did a google search for that story, which is called How Shall I Mourn Them? and turned up a delightful reorganization of all of the lines of the story, by person - tidied up, if you will, like those Ursus Wehrli books where masterpieces of art get deconstructed back to their component lines and dots.]

Finally, I got around to buying the book - a thick and delicious brick of paper, oddly light for its many hundred pages. Her stories? I don't know where to begin. Many are short - a title and a sentence, or a paragraph. Most are peculiar in a particularly heartstabbing way. Every single one is savory, just so. As I read it, slowly over the past year, I thought time and again, I want to send this book to T. I want to send this story to C. I rather wish that Chronicle would take a mess of the shortest stories and publish them as a boxed set on postcards - so I could easily send a story to someone. Like this:


We are sitting here together, my digestion and I. I am reading a book and it is working away at the lunch I ate a little while ago.

Is that not odd and perfect?

Bechdel's Fun Home is a tour de force. I had, I confess, shied away from it because it's a graphic novel - it didn't seem like something I wanted to read. But I was incredibly lucky to be invited to see the musical at the Circle in the Square, and afterwards I rather wanted to experience the book. The book's broader, bigger, more detailed than the show - just like most books are more detailed than the movies they become. In retrospect, the book enhanced my experience of the show, and vice versa - both are singular experiences.

If you were keeping track, two books went away for the weekend and remained untouched. There's only so much reading one can do in three days. Margaret of the Imperfections (short stories) and Woodbrook (memoir) are waiting patiently for their turns at bat.

But what I'm thinking is that I need to start another big, chewy, absorbing novel.


Heide Estes said...

I bought The Invisible Library, really for The Dude, but read it first since it's not YA, and LOVED it. (He enjoyed it too. Sequel coming later this year.)

S said...

Thanks for recommending the Davis!

Lollipop Goldstein said...

I am the opposite: I finished the second book and my HEART WAS EXPLODING. And then... I've spent the last few weeks carrying around the third book, not reading it yet, torturing myself. I do this sometimes: let all the excitement to read the book build up until I can't stand it and then devour it. I find this time period, the anticipation time period, an enjoyable part of the process, knowing I have a good book ahead of me.

I'm excited to hear that it won't disappoint.

Jocelyn said...

I adore you. I need your recommendations, as you are a Very Respected Reader in Jocelyn's World, so after I comment here, I'm off to Goodreads to add your recs. And I'M SO GLAD YOU READ FUN HOME BECAUSE IT'S ONE OF MY ALL-TIME EVER FAVORITE BOOKS, AND I THINK IT'S A HEROIC ENDEAVOR THE WAY BECHDEL APPROACHED THE WRITING OF IT.

Fair warning: her graphic novel about her relationship with her mother is, comparatively, disappointing.

Also: where the hell have I been, not visiting your blog with regularity? Don't even try to answer that.

susan said...

I love seeing other people's reading trails. I'm thinking about dusting off my blog to write about Fun Home, actually. We haven't seen it yet, but S. is currently obsessed with the soundtrack and wanted to read the book. So we're reading it together (she started it alone but was having trouble following it--it is so full of literary allusion to things she hasn't read yet). I'm really impressed with the way the play takes the book and turns it into another narrative. Such beautiful selection of theme, details, and (re)organization.

julochka said...

i just ordered all of these books from the library. i always trust your advice on what to read. i've been grazing on ryszard kapuscinski's travels with herodotus and am looking for a "big, chewy, absorbing novel" to read next. :-)

Carol Steel said...

I have long been a fan of Lydia Davis. Your postcard idea is helpful. I may try it myself.