No matter how dilgent one has been with one’s read-o-lutions, February is not the shortest month but the longest test.
And, yet, my February reading, one week in, remains in concert with my 2015 read-o-lutions. Part of that is due to the fact that I am still reading some of the same books. (Is that a good thing?)
Lewis Hyde’s The Gift (1979) and The Diaries of Dawn Powell settled into the stack on the first day of January. Just five or ten pages of Lewis Hyde’s book gives a reader something to chew on.
“In the beginning we have no choice but to accept what has come to us, hoping that the cinders some forest spirit saw fit to bestow may turn to gold when we have carried them back to the hearth.”
Under discussion is the source of the creative spirit, which inspires the artist to make the work and offer it to an audience, to keep the gift in motion. This fits with a more general discussion of what it mean to bestow a gift which was discussed in detail in the book’s first half, relying upon a variety of sources, from anthropological studies and fairy tales.
In The Gift‘s second half, Ezra Pound and Walt Whitman move to centre stage (but many other voices – Coleridge, Pinter, Sarton, Conrad,Angelou, Kundera – fill out the chorus). Readers settle into complex questions, like the consequences of the commercialization of art (in the context of which television shows should be in the time-slots opposite “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days”).
Talk of Nielsen ratings in terms of allowing commodity art to “define and control our gifts” and exhaust the creative spirit is surprisingly relevant in an age where writers are forced to balance the need to “produce content” or “create art”.
The Gift is not light reading; Lewis Hyde’s classic has a chunk of pages devoted to bibliography, index and notes and the need to reread passages is pressing. And, yet, the book has less of a lecture-hall feel to it, more of a brandy-snifter-after-dinner-fireside-scene feel to it.
It landed on my TBR some years ago because Margaret Atwood recommended it (her Payback would make a terrific reading companion) and it is certainly a worthwhile read. Deep in Whitman territory, in the second-last chapter, there’s little question of my finishing, also little question that it would bear rereading immediately.
Every book in the rest of the stack is somehow related to a read-o-lution. Isabel Allende’s Eva Luna and Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero are there because I loved other books by them (The House of the Spirits and The Cat’s Table) but haven’t made time for many of their others (why not?).
Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True was a gift from a friend (soo many years ago that it’s hard to argue that I’m a good friend). It’s also probably the longest novel I’ll read this year. Not since Kristin Lavransdatter have I felt that a bookmark parked at 200 pages seemed like a lame effort on my part.
Infinite Riches is a Virago read (but I’m better at collecting them than reading them) and the short story collection in my stack. Next week there will be talk of five contemporary collections I’ve read recently, but I’m in the mood for some classic stories these days.
Where Nests the Water Hen is part of my Gabrielle Roy project (but I’ve only read The Tim Flute so far). It’s one of those books that’s been in the mix for months, slipping in and out of the current stack. Part One is the perfect length to read in a single sitting, whereas the novel’s second part comprises the bulk of the volume (followed by a shorter third part), so I keep reading the first part, setting it aside and then losing track of the story and beginning again. But that happens to you too, sometimes, right? I know that I must read beyond the first part in a single sitting, even just a single page.
M.C.Higgins the Great is one of my 20-something books; it’s been on my shelves, neglected, for more than 20 years. Since then, I’ve read some other books by Virginia Hamilton but I’m fine with having waited so long to meet M.C. because his story, of a mountain in the process of being levelled to satisfy corporate interests, feels just as timely today as it would have done when the book first landed on my shelves.
And Amphibian was bought new, but then I read a few hundred other books instead (why do I do this?). Phin is a terrific character and the tone of the story reminds of my Susin Nielsen’s writing (especially The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, for Phin, too, is seeing a doctor).
What is in your stack these days? How is your reading year so far?