Monday, April 2, 2012

Reading is sexy XLIX

(image: 'In March read the books you've always meant to read' via brainpickings March 25, 1941, WPA Art Project Chicago)

I think it's official. I have reader's block. It's like writer's block, but for readers. I have been a roughly a book a week (40 to 50 a year) sort of reader for the last couple of decades (oh, dear, how is that possible?)... but not of late. I barely read 25.5 books last year, and this year is not off to an auspicious start. I think trying to read 'Myths to Live By' was one of my mistakes.

1. Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell. I pulled this book off RJH's shelf and it nearly did me in. I thought, "It's Joseph Campbell, on myths, how can I go wrong?" I was wrong. It took me the better part of 4 months to read this book. It did not resonate with me. I suspect, as Faunalia suggested, that was because the ideas were not new to me, though they would have seemed far more so had I read it when it was published (which, for the record, would be before my birth - I'm not that old). In fact, in December, I was waiting for the streetcar at Queen and Ossington with F., ranting about my attempt to read this book*, and I was shaking it about, asking "It's Joseph Campbell, on myths, I thought how could I go wrong?" when a lovely lady who had been in our screenprinting class in the fall, coincidentally walked by and said, "Oh hello! How are you? That's my favorite book!" I could only be thankful that she interrupted me before I launched into my attack. While there was interesting information in this book, I found it dated. I was impatient with the asides of "Kids these days!" (these days being the late 60s) and was surprised at his attitudes towards the religious (in sum, they are immature). I'm not religious and that irked me. Also, I know enough geochronology to know his allusions to prehistoric anthropology are out of date. There might be an interesting book in linking schizophrenia to the hero's quest, but this is not that book. Mainly, I learned some things about yoga, and read a bunch of things I had read before. If you are interested in the history of the study of myth, maybe this is the thing. Or maybe the trick is to read a single lecture at a time. I personally think if you are actually looking for myths to live by, you might be better off reading Women who run with the wolves. Or maybe, I've become a cranky reader.

2. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. I read this book because Faunalia got tired of recommending I pick it up 200 times and she bought me a paperback copy. I hadn't read any Gibson in years, though I enjoyed Neuromancer and so forth, in my early 20s. This is the story of Cayce Pollard, cool hunter in 2003, charged with finding the source of "the footage", a sort of cult film released anonymously in tiny portions in random places on the internet and obsessively collected by an on-line community of footageheads. Cayce is haunted by the memory of her father, who went missing in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Cayce's success as a cool hunter is attributed to a sort of allergy to branding. It's a fascinating premise and Gibson translates his cultural exposition and critique from cyberpunk to the contemporary world with great success. The novel works as a sort of thriller, with some well-written characters. She travels the world chasing the source of the footage, trying to tell friend from foe, and finding the place where marketing meets globalization and terror. I was annoyed that she used Hotmail (really, a cool hunter would use something so desperately uncool, in 2003?) and I was a bit disappointed in the denouement. After reading an engaging and innovative novel, I expected a bit more than an Agatha Christie-style "let's contrive to have all the characters have dinner and explain all the missing bits" with a series of letters back and forth to tie up all the loose ends. However, the reason this annoyed me was that the novel was very good indeed up to that point. I do recommend it.

3. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Don't say I didn't warn you that I've been a cranky reader of late, but I expected a bit more from the Man Booker prize winner. This is a good novel, but I wasn't amazed or truly moved. The novel is told in two parts. Tony Webster and his clique at school meet Adrian Finn and vie for his attention. They are pretentious, adolescent boys, who think highly of their own wit and intelligence, and sense that Finn is perhaps more genuine and clever. In the second part he he's retired, after a calm life, career, marriage and divorce (though he still has cozy little lunches with his ex-wife). An unexpected lawyer's letter brings back that adolescent through college years, his girlfriend of the time and his friend Finn. He remembers and slowly learns how the past is not always what we thought. I think the story would have affected me more had I liked Tony Webster.

4. Vintage Lopez by Barry Lopez. I stumbled upon this book and liked the sound of an explorer who had worked extensively in the Arctic. This collection includes non-fiction essays investigating the relationship between literature and landscape, ecology, light, and how air freight works (which is more interesting that it sounds). He has a way of painting indelible images in my mind. I really enjoyed the short fiction written at the intersection of art and science (imaginary anthropology, collectors and naturalists but most particularly the mapmaker). I wish I were the sort of person who could have written The Mappist. He manages to make an obsessive quest to map everything in North Dakota (geology, hydrology, biology, botany, history of the place form Native times, including paths flown by Swainson's hawks, and their principle prey ground squirrels, types of soil in transparent overlays, all footpaths and their history, and so forth) sound downright magical, and the sort of things which would have been in Borges' library.

*I care enough about books to discuss them in a heated fashion while flinging the book about... or something like that.

{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL,XLI, XLII, XLIII,XLIV, XLV, XLVI, XLVII, XLVIII}

No comments: