Monday, January 08, 2007

2007, week 1

We spent the weekend each of us in turn playing host to Helena's little viral friends. Ugh. Bleargh. Absolutely wretched company.

The first couple days of 2007, days of anticipation, preparation, and, yes, even work, all crashed on top of me. And so the first week of the new year leaves me tired, sore, confused. I vow to spend today resting and reflecting and fully rehydrating, enjoying not hearing "I'm so very sick" (J-F) and "Can you play with me now, mommy?" (Helena) and "I need water. Can you get me some water? Do you mind going to the store to buy some bottled water?" (J-F) and "I'm really hungry, mommy" (Helena), and enjoying not scrubbing the toilets or changing the cat litter (because somebody had to). I won't even rearrange the living room furniture, which I did yesterday only to distract me from the nausea I'd feel rising when I lay perfectly still.

I finished reading The Red and the Black, before illness struck. The final chapters I find quite unsettling — as to the nature of this thing called love, but also whether Julien deserves any of what others feel toward him. I definitely read this book as a romance, an exploration of Love, more so than as an individual's self-discovery (which is what I for some reason expected) or as a sociopolitical commentary (a grasp of the history and politics helps make sense of the characters and their actions but by no means is central). I'm looking forward to comparing notes with anyone else who's finishing it up. I'll be dipping into my French copy, replete with essays and commentary, for further insight.

I'd wanted to say a little something about The West Pier, by Patrick Hamilton, but the inspiration has left me. It's quotable, and funny, and really insightful all over every single page, but you really kinda had to be there. I think I prefer the sequel, The Charmer, to this one as a study of character (they both can stand alone, though they are the first 2 parts of a trilogy). Gorse in his early, Brighton years is really much nastier, although maybe I say that because I know what he evolves into. The West Pier characters, as multifaceted as any of Hamilton's others, are more plainly put — that is, his mean streak and her naivete, et cetera, are clearly spelled out. Part of the great satisfaction I felt in reading The West Pier came from having my reading of Gorse's later character and motivations in The Charmer absolutely confirmed — what he does he does only to see that he can.

I am almost convinced to allot a portion of gift certificates received to the acquisition of the Masterpiece Theater dramatization, that is, on something I would never buy for myself, rather than bargain hunting to maximize returns as is in my usual cheapskate nature. Almost.

One week of the year down, and I have read one entire book. (Never mind that it's mostly pictures.) Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle, is a graphic novel documenting the 2 months the author spent there working for a French film animation company. I know next to nothing about North Korea, and can't really say I care to actively pursue knowing more. But this book's really engaging, helped no doubt by using Orwell's 1984, something I am familiar with, as a touchstone. The art is simple and gray, which goes a long way in depicting the mundane absurdities Delisle faced. There's not much by way of plot or serious sociopolitical analysis. But it's kind of funny. And it makes you think...

So. One week, one book. And it's a translation.

It seems a lot of people are challenging themselves to read literature in translation. I'd never really considered making that a goal in itself, as I've always tended to have an interest in foreign, particularly European, novels. But, since everybody else is doing it (oh, good grief, do I have to?), I had to look at the numbers (I'm weak, I had to, a part of me really wanted to know): in 2006 a solid 25% of the books I read were translations (that is, exactly 12 of a piddly 48 — I know! I'm such a slacker! How do people read more than that? I mean, unless it's your job to read, or you ride a lot of public transportation. Seriously. I mean, I have my nose in a book every spare second I have, if I'm not, umm, blogging. I don't even watch much tv, except for Doctor Who, and there's a whole 'nother effing week before we pick up again where last we left off at the beginning of December with the Beast rising from the Pit and I can tell you not watching Doctor Who has not significantly increased my spare reading time, in fact, not at all, as the time has merely been replaced with fielding Helena's questions "Is Doctor Who on tonight?" "When can we watch Doctor Who?" "Can we watch Doctor Who tomorrow?" "Why is there no Doctor Who?" I may not be the fastest reader in the West, but I'm not slow — I know I'm not slow — and surely I'm not the only person in le bloguemonde who has a small child to care for and play with and a significant other upon which to lavish affection and boring stories and who has paying work to do and an abode that requires occasional upkeep. I just don't get it. How do you read more?) In the foreseeable future I have books originally written in Polish, French, Russian, and Spanish lined up. I'd like to read another Pamuk book this year. And I have it in mind to read the entire oeuvre of Stanislaw Lem, maybe even in the original, depending how my little exercise on this Schulz thing works out (Why is it commonly known as The Street of Crocodiles, as opposed to its originally translated and accurate title, The Cinnamon Shops? The answer to this question has thus far proven elusive and is driving me nuts!) I won't be reading Calvino anytime soon, because I think I've already read everything he's ever written, I named my bloody cat Calvino (how pretentious was I 11 years ago?), I call his name every single day. I suppose I could challenge myself to read foreign, non-European literature, but that just doesn't interest me much. I am, however, proud to say that 100% of the books I've finished in 2007 were in translation.

But hey. More than 2 years ago I promised to read more of some dead white guy, so last night I went to bed with David Copperfield and had a very hard time putting it down (I read 9.6% of it), which is maybe why I'm so cranky today, not having slept enough and still itching to know what happens next.

This early bit in particular struck a chord with me, because having watched — dare I say "studied"? — the development of a human throughout her first 4 years, I'm certain it's true:

This may be fancy, though I think the memory of most of us can go farther back into such times than many of us suppose; just as I believe the power of observation in numbers of very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed, I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity of being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood.

(And Happy Birthday, Ivonna! I think you should document your Birthday in Bishkek as a graphic novel.)


Tim said...

Hey, I read an excerpt of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea in The Best Nonrequired Reading of 2006. I wondered if the entire book would be interesting or not, cause it was kind of hard to tell from a single chapter.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I hope you are all on the mend! Lots of sickness has been going on around here...I keep ducking down and hoping to hide from it! ;)

Anonymous said...

That's a lot of reading to do. I haven't read David Copperfield yet.

Lots of soup doled out for the visitors.

Martha said...

48 books last year? With a four year old and a job? I'm terrifically impressed and envious. And as for the sickness in the house, you have my deepest sympathy. Ick ick ick.

nessie said...

Hats off with Red & Black... as you know I just finished it and saw the great group blog you guys have.

Usually I read about 150 books a year. I think the reason is that I have A LOT of variety, in author, genre, size, age group (I indulge in a YA book every month I would say) and most of all read several books at the same time. Chunksters hold a person back when you have to carry it around. I always make sure I am reading a book that is compact and easy to carry so that even if I am waiting in line to pay, I can easily whip it out. Some people cannot follow several texts at once and often I find it is those people who aren't able to read as much (granted this being posted on the www I am sure someone will prove me wrong).

I recently discovered Dickens myself with the Christmas Carol. His humour is fantastic! Enjoy Copperfeild and will be seeing you at the other group blog once I get all my thoughts worked out on R&B... dam that book is crazy!