Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Reading....and then not so much

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Reading....and then not so much

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It’s a wonderful book, beautifully written by an author I admire. So why is it languishing on my night stand while I finish two others plus the Janet Malcolm piece in last week’s New Yorker?

The book in question is “The Adventures of Augie March,” by Saul Bellow. Undeniably a Great Work by an Important Writer. But, more than that, a book I’ve meant to--wanted to--read, looked forward to reading, and now, night after night, can’t seem to get myself to pick up.

One of the reasons I wanted to read the book just now is that I recently read an excerpt of a collection of Bellow’s letters. He revealed himself to be not only, of course, a meticulous and thoughtful writer, but also an astoundingly generous one. Letters to a just-starting-out Philip Roth, to Martin Amis feeling distanced from his father, to a young wannbe at a writers’ conference--uniformly kind, encouraging, large-hearted, helpful.

But now that I’m reading “Augie March,” instead of “just one more chapter” being the mantra that reins me in, it’s the one that’s prodding me forward. What’s going on here?

There is the overwhelming maleness, true. Sometimes it feels like a different language, right from those uber-muscular opening words, “I’m an American--Chicago born.” But I love those words. There is something exhilarating about them. And I got over the Y chromosome factor enough to love the Updike Rabbit books.

There’s that overstuffed quality, with so much going on in each sentence. So much elegant and precise language, but also so many esoteric words and references that are the hallmark of Bellow’s writing. Maybe this is reading not for bedtime, but for a more energetic time of day.

I know I’ll finish it eventually. And I’m sure I’ll love it. And I guess it is convenient to be reading a book that doesn’t seem to compel me to put down everything else. But what makes a book put-down-able or not? And, in the long run, does that interfere with our appreciation of it?

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Blogger Mim said...

I understand, having just finished Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom," for my readers group. I balked at first, then surrendered. It required surrender, and I'm glad I did. All this sounds like X surrendering to Y. Y is tireless: one sentence is often pages long. If it were lovemaking it would wear me out.

May 13, 2010 at 6:30 AM  

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