Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

What I'm reading

I like reading better than living

So I've decided, upon reflection, that I like reading better than living, and writing about reading better than writing about life. And actually, forget the writing part; if I could spend the rest of my life just reading one book after another and sometimes several at a time, I honestly think I would be satisfied with that. There are so many people in the world who do things, and write things, and do and write them very well, and somebody's got to sit around and appreciate it. I was about to stipulate a shady hammock and some lemonade, but you know what? Not even. I'm happier reading in a cramped and mildewy basement than I am not reading at all in a hammock.

For the past few weeks, I've been on a bit of a bender. It started with The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi, which I liked but not as much as I'd wanted to - it's about a little girl and her creepy imaginary friend who might be something else, and the creepy parts were great, but I didn't buy the seven-year-old reading Shakespeare and getting it - I knew a girl in grade two who brought a big collection of Shakespeare's plays to school and claimed to have read them, but she was totally faking.

And it didn't help, knowing the backstory (that she wrote it while finishing her A-levels and getting into Cambridge and she got a huge advance for it and she was only eighteen) because I kept wondering if certain parts didn't make sense because I didn't get them, or because she wrote them in an extreme hurry, or if I was just jealous.

While I was reading that, I also read Stoned, Naked, and Looking in my Neighbour's Window, a compilation of confessions from I like the anonymity of grouphug - it's like all the Tarnation and reality TV and confessional autobiographical public blah blah in the world right now, but nobody on it is going to get famous for it, and that's good. Fame is stupid. Did you hear about the study they did on monkeys where they gave them the option of looking at different photos in exchange for grapes? The monkeys apparently paid the most for photos of alpha monkeys (and other monkeys' hindquarters). That's fame.

And before I was quite done either of the other two, V. S. Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain came in at the library, so I read that, while also reading Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City, which I'm going to review just as soon as I've read his latest novel, Snow, and maybe skimmed over My Name is Red again because I forget how it ends. (I love Pamuk - The New Life is the book that defined my twenties - and Istanbul is a very worthwhile read if you're a fan of him or of the city, but the same thing happened when I read it as when I read Rise Up, O Young Men of the New Age buy Kenzaburo Oe: I suddenly realized that they were able to write so copiously and well in part because they're privileged and never have to scrub toilets or write profiles to pay the rent. And Oe is pretty open about the fact that his wife takes on all the work in daily life - not just housework, but raising their kids (obviously an extra-demanding job in their case) and making sure that even his friends and associates don't bother hiim while he's working. And I'm not saying I grudge them this - they make good use of it, lots of people are rich and pampered and don't write great novels at all; just, once again, I felt a bit disillusioned somehow, and maybe (again) jealous.

Or not even jealous. I always liked imagining that Pamuk was something like me, that when he wrote about overnight bus travel it carried the same weight of poverty-stricken gratitude to the cheap bus companies for his heroes as it did for me, and so on. But of course the point of reading isn't only to see your own point of view reflected at you.

So. Just as I was finishing the Pamuk, my brother gave me Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, for my birthday. I don't even really know why I like Murakami so much, except that his books (especially the big epic ones like this one and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles) put me in a kind of narrative-junkie trance. He's a master of the teasing chapter ending. And he does things like introducing a supernatural Pan-like character who manifests in the form of Colonel Sanders, or creating really emotionally plausible visions of the afterlife. And everyone in his books tries really hard and is disillusioned, but not totally disillusioned. I guess maybe I like him because he's so freaking great.

And while I was wrapping that one up, Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer, arrived at the library. Whoosh. Damn. And because I finished reading that too soon, and at a certain point it gets hard to stop, I carried right on into Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, which is giving me restless dreams that I'm Nadia, the rugged and practical Martian construction engineer from Siberia. All night long, I'm laying pipe and inventing polymers, and waking up in the morning and doing it again, and it barely matters that the air in this city is hot toxic fudge and I can't hardly breathe.