Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reading list for February 2007

Currently reading
St. Augustine, Confessions
Joseph Roth, Hiob

Recently read
Paul Auster, The New York trilogy
Alan Bennett, Vater, Vater, lichterloh
  ditto, Die Lady im Lieferwagen
  ditto, Cosi fan tutti

Much to do with Mr. Bennett this month, three very short novels bundled together with assorted essays and short stories. Wonderful stuff about life and learning to live with disappointment. One laughs a lot when reading Bennett, but he does not write comedy.

I'm uncertain where to put Paul Auster, other than in the category of "overrated." He spends so much time being clever that he forgets to tell a proper tale. I conclude that "Timbuktoo" and "Auggie March's Christmas Story" (both of which I loved) were flukes.

Reading St. Augustine is an odd experience. He writes well and with insight about himself and his times, and then jumps to page-length hymns of praise to the goodness of God which are nearly as vapid as the mock-sermon in Monty Python's The meaning of life. Frankly, after reading the first few of these I've started skipping them. It's odd that one who writes so well could be so dismissive of reading and writing, which he refers to as "meretricious" and "trivial" and "worthless." I am aware of a growing unease as I read into the book, I do not trust him. This reminds me of a character from my student days, the husband of the manageress of the catering service who was a lay preacher. We had many interesting discussions of life and the search for meaning while he was behind the bar. I remember once finding him in a foul mood: angry, betrayed, disillusioned. He had been reading the Confessions and didn't believe them: "He lied! That cannot be how it happened. St. Augustine lied!" I can see what he meant.

While writing that paragraph I had a start: the thesaurus fell off the shelf and landed with a loud BANG on the floor. The crash transported me back nearly forty years in an instant, to the day that the dictionary broke. This was a big, thick, heavy single-volume dictionary, a foot tall and nearly as broad and too thick to be held by the spine. It was a professional word-wrangler's tool, a treat for word-lovers that included the words' etymologies and in many cases an extensive "see also" section of related or opposite words. My father was very fond of this book, he would look up a word and then spend half an hour following the connections (it's odd that he hasn't taken to the Internet, which is nothing but words and connections; perhaps he has the professional's disdain for amateur writing). On that fateful day, my mother distractedly, unattentively put the book down on the edge of the dining-room table, half supported and half in thin air; and of course somebody then nudged the table; and of course the dictionary fell. When a book that big falls, damage is done: the spine broke and the cover was wrenched away from the threaded backing. Dad was furious, I honestly thought that he was going to hit her. He patched the book together with duct tape. It was perfectly serviceable, but clearly the joy was gone because he seldom spent half-hours reading it after that. I'd forgotten the episode. Memories carry the full emotional load of the instant of their creation, when my thesaurus fell I experienced again the fear, surprise and confusion of that moment.

Next month's list
Last month's list

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Blogger Pacian said...

I sympthatise with your father. I'm very materialistic about my books. They feel like a solid representation of my personality.

The Day the Dictionary Broke

This is what the movie should be called. It will be in black-and-white and star Basil Rathbone as the dictionary's distraught author.

March 1, 2007 at 1:16:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger alan said...

great post udge. your line about bennett - one laughs a lot when reading bennett, but he does not write comedy - seems to be a perfect summation of his art, and i really can recommend the dvd of the monologues he wrote for tv.

March 1, 2007 at 1:17:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Udge said...

Hello Pacian, nice to see you here. Sounds like a good film, an Ealing comedy with tragic overtones.

Alan, thanks for the compliment and the tip. I shall try to find the Talking Heads compilation.

March 1, 2007 at 11:53:00 a.m. GMT+1  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

I agree with pacian, that would be an interesting movie. Basil Rathbone would be fantastic.

I love words and will find myself wondering where they came from sometimes. I especially enjoy Latin and seeing where our words come from. Not to say that I read Latin on a regular basis, I had a Latin word a day calendar that I loved and would try to translate it before I would look at the definition. I suspect that if I would have tried to take Latin as a class, I would have lost my enjoyment for it. I've often found I don't like being told what to read, preferring to find it for myself. Shakespeare comes to mind - I love The Tempest and A Midsummer's Night Dream but despise MacBeth and the one with Shylock (can't even remember the name now...grr. Help me out here - Oh, A Merchant in Venice) because I was told to read the latter in school.

March 2, 2007 at 6:24:00 p.m. GMT+1  

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