There are hundreds of books that I don’t read even though I know I’d enjoy them. I have a copy of Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? on my e-reader, and I’ve browsed through the first few pages on a number of occasions. And each time, I’ve thought, “This looks really good.”
And I’ve still held off on reading it.
Because I don’t want to just have really good reading experiences; I want to have great reading experiences. And in order to have a great reading experience you need the right book at the right time in your life. You can’t plan these things, and you especially can’t force them. You can’t say, “This month will be my Tolstoy month” because you just don’t know. It might turn out to be your young adult novel month.
It requires boldness and curiosity in order to figure out what book is the right one for you. You need to consider many different books and make an honest try at reading them and be willing to abandon them in an instant, without prejudice, if they don’t appeal to you.
Strange as it may sound, I read Ulysses because when I opened the file, the book felt different from all the other times I’d opened the file. It spoke to me, whereas previously it’d been silent. However, I sometimes wonder if maybe it wasn’t the right summer for it after all. Reading the novel took 45 days and was frequently somewhat tedious. I breezed through the last half of it, though, so perhaps it is just one of those books that teaches you how to read itself*.
But when I read Buddenbrooks, the time was definitely right! Not only did I love it, I became so excited by it that I decided to make a survey of German language fiction! I don’t know why that is where my mind leapt. I’d kind of felt like maybe I’d spend the rest of the year finishing up the modernist classes, but somehow wading into a new and strange national literature felt more exciting than reading whatever Woolf and Faulkner and Hemingway novels I haven’t already consumed.
After finishing Buddenbrooks, I read Joseph Roth’s Radetzky’s March, which is a novel–written by an Austrian Jew–about the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Apparently, it is a very famous, very classic novel for German-speaking people. I’d never heard of it. But it was awesome! Embedded in here is also a very touching father and son story. There’s a sternness in their relationship that never wavers, but you can see how they love each other. It’s amazing. Very emotional. Also pretty short, for this kind of family epic (it goes through four generation of this family in pretty short order).
Then I read Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, which was fun to read and all, but…a guy can get tired of reading another tale of doomed homosexual love. At least in Giovanni’s Room, they actually had sex. It wasn’t all just staring at a kid on the beach.
And now I’m reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, which is really good! It’s about a somewhat morbid old artistic / philosophical type who suddenly comes alive. It’s hard to describe, though: it’s not like some horrible Jim Carrey movie about a businessman who starts to loosen up. The execution is much more interesting than you’d think.
Anyway, I have a copy of Mann’s Doctor Faustus on hold at the JHop library, and I hope to start on that when I get back. But we’ll see. Maybe my enthusiasm for the germans will fade as rapidly as it came.
In other news, I should be in DC by tonight and Baltimore by tomorrow. It’s been a good car trip. I felt a lot of fatigue, so I took it pretty slow. However, I’ve just been really happy over most of it. And if I’m happy despite the dislocation and sleep debt, then I know my real mood must be really high. I can’t tell if I’m happy because there is nothing in my life that is worrying me or if I’m so happy that I can’t be worried about things.
Like, I’ll start to worry about something and then I’ll realize, “Ehh, that’s not a real problem.” And then I’ll look for something else to worry about it and just won’t be there.
Usually if there’s nothing else to worry about, I’ll worry about the story I’m working on. But that hasn’t caused me much angst. It’s a crazy story, and its form means that I’m lucky if half an hour of work on it yields a few hundred works. But I think it’s coming together. Yeah…hold on…let me try to worry about it not coming together…nope…the worry is not arising. Not sure if that means the story is going well or if I am just that worry-proof right now.