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Monday, 19 September 2016

Reading seven books and not a single blog post

Since Women In Translation month, August, I have read primarily English language books. Four Jean Rhys novels, “Quartet”, “After Leaving Mr Mackenzie”, “Voyage in the Dark” and “Good Morning, Midnight”, these with the full intention of participating in Reading Rhys Week, hosted by Jacqui of Jacqui Wine’s blog  and Eric at the Lonesome Reader

I’ve also read Tracy K. Smith’s debut poetry collection, “The Body’s Question”, J.D. Wright’s harrowing last poetry collection “Shallcross” published soon after her sudden death, and to finish off the USA connection I read “Omensetter’s Luck” by William H. Gass a work from 1966 but identified by David Foster Wallace in the late 90's as one of his “five direly underappreciated U.S Novels >1960”.

So why no reviews? No posts?

I could list numerous reasons, I have started a new job, that has kept me very busy, but I’ve always been busy. I don’t have a lot to add to the debate on these books not anything you can't find in other places. The personal nature of the poetry collections sometimes makes sharing thoughts a little trite. I may even get to writing about these collections some other time as I will revisit them. I’ve been watching discussions on other forums about the 2016 Man Booker longlist descend into name calling and personal attacks when others disagree with a point of view. In the past not one of these reasons would have stopped me putting forward my point of view, although a lot of the notes I have taken on these books look more like a lesson plan (for example the common themes) than an interesting contribution.

Add to these factors the niggling thought that for some time, I have wanted to tackle a number of larger books, have the freedom to not write a blog post as I immerse myself in a 900-page work like Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” or slowly working my way through the massive 2.2-million-word tome that is Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”. Doing that would mean a break from blog posting, or at least intermittent posts either about my progress or about the shorter works I read along the way (for example I’ve been reading a number of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories as they are referenced in Schmidt’s work), or dabbling in a few poetry collections on the train trip to work.

All up it is not simply procrastination.

However, as I finally put a halt to the English language reading of the last three weeks and opened Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” on the weekend, starting my journey to find Benno von Archimboldi, this is what I read on page 17, I think it perfectly sums up my dilemma, I’m sure it’s not the first time somebody has said this, “last word goes to Bolaño”:

In 1995 they met at a panel discussion on contemporary German literature held in Amsterdam, a discussion within the framework of a larger discussion that was taking place in the same building (although in separate lecture halls), encompassing French, English, and Italian literature.

It goes without saying that most of the attendees of these curious discussions gravitated towards the hall where contemporary English literature was being discussed, next door to the German literature hall and separated from it by a wall that was clearly not made of stone, as walls used to be, but of fragile bricks covered with a thin layer of plaster, so that the shouts, howls, and especially the applause sparked by English literature could be heard in the German literature room as if the two talks or dialogues were one, or as if the Germans were being mocked, when not drowned out, by the English, not to mention by the massive audience attending the English (or Anglo-Indian) discussion, notably larger than the sparse and earnest audience attending the German discussion. Which in the final analysis was a good thing, because it's common knowledge that a conversation involving only a few people, with everyone listening to everyone else and taking time to think and not shouting, tends to be more productive or at least more relaxed than a mass conversation, which runs the permanent risk of becoming a rally, or, because of the necessary brevity of the speeches, a series of slogans that fade as soon as they're put into words.


Unknown said...

It's interesting Tony, but I've noticed somewhat more English language literature in my reading this year (fiction and essays). But I think that the distinction for me has become one of reading more independent small presses that may or may not be publishing translated literature. The translated work I like tends to come from indie presses, same with the English language books. The willingness to take risks appeals, writers with interesting ideas or takes on the world are less likely to be coming out from larger mainstream publishers. That's where my reading seems to be heading. I also read more from online literary journals and print journals like gorse or Black Sun Lit. I let my Granta subscription lapse and tried to ditch Paris Review (but they don't make it easy).

Messy_Tony said...

Thanks for stopping by Rough Ghosts. Maybe that is my problem, having read a number of works (in English) from indie presses & the more obscure translated titles, I've then jumped into Penguin Classics & find something missing. It's not as though these were "bad" books (the Rhys and Gass ones), it's just they didn't excite me, I felt like I was 16 again in Lit class. I enjoyed reading your take on Rhys & the alignment with the tragic personal journey you've had this year & how she just didn't fit at the time. Ordinarily I wouldn't post just because I hadn't read but it was almost cathartic as I was stewing over what to do. Now back to 2666