Every so often I find myself with too many choices. This week has been one of those times. The week starts like any other. I choose a book and begin to read. But something just isn't right. The book isn't moving quickly enough, it's too vague, the author takes his time getting to the point, the dialogue seems forced, there's too much dialogue or not enough. I don't want to read about Eskimos or endangered species or hobgoblins after what happened on Monday or didn't happen on Tuesday. Suddenly, though nothing has changed, the story's fire has dimmed while another book on the shelf starts blazing with light. So I pick up that book; I'll finish the first one, sure I will...just let me read this one first. Suddenly I look around and find that the stack by my bedside is about to topple over with the half-read and the put aside. That's what happened this morning. I took a good look at the bedside stand.
The book that's been there the longest (or at least the oldest one I'll admit to) is The Duke's Children. You'll remember that I started that back before the New Year. It was to be the last book that I read in 2007 but instead was pushed aside by the glittering possibilities of 2008's reading. Steve has been at me non-stop about this fickleness towards one of his favorite authors. Even I had thought my romance with the book was over but this morning I woke up feeling flushed with nostalgia and moved it back to the top of the stack. Maybe this time I'll follow through. Yes, definitely this time.
Next we have two books that I started before going on vacation a few weeks ago, Garcia's Heart by Liam Durcan and Wise Children by Angela Carter. Garcia's Heart is a first novel and was recommended to me by The Mama Chan. She has never steered me wrong and this book is no exception. It is good. Not flashy, just very solidly good. It's about a neurologist who travels to The Hague to sit in on the trial for war crimes of his old mentor, Hernan Garcia. He knew Garcia and his family in Canada, where the Honduran cardiologist had settled down to run a small store and forget his past. The protagonist cannot reconcile this man with the one portrayed at the tribunal and neither can we, the reader. There is also a subplot involving the protagonist and Garcia's daughter, who used to be his lover. This is not nearly as interesting as the main plot and is probably what keeps me from finishing it. I don't care about this romance and my reading gets derailed every time the writer switches over to it. What I want to know is the secret that Garcia's heart holds.
Wise Children is quite the opposite. It is filled with flash and glitter, dancing girls, ponies walking on their hind legs, magicians making beautiful girls disappear, etc. It's a three ring circus in other words. I spent two round trips to work on the subway reading it and here's what I know. The main characters are two elderly, bastard twins who made their living in vaudeville. Eccentricity is everywhere. It is just the kind of story that I love, so what happened? I went on my vacation, leaving it behind and here it still sits. But, yeah, I'm going to read it...soon...
And with that, we arrive at the top strata. You're not feeling ill are you? We do have oxygen handy, should you need it. At the top we have two books, King Dork by Frank Portman and Lost In Translation by Eva Hoffman. I can't say very much yet about King Dork; I've barely cracked it open. It's a teen read that caught my eye because the main character has his life turned around by Catcher In the Rye. I'm bound to have more to say later.
Lost in Translation is a beautifully written memoir of a Polish girl who moves to Canada in her early teens and finds herself untethered by the experience. I'm about half way through reading it and am a bit in awe of both the writing and the girl's experience. I could open the book at random and find something worth quoting. For example:
The yellowed pages I take out of the library draw me into them as into a trance--but only on the condition that they create a convincing mimetic illusion. I feel subtly cheated by Alice in Wonderland, because it is all pretend, a game, and of what interest is that? My reading is all mixed up, and it's not so long after I read Alice that I'm given War and Peace. This is something I should read carefully, my parents convey to me, a classic, something very important--but the usually discouraging invocation of duty has no effect on me this time. I don't notice that War and Peace is a book, something I'm
reading. Surely, this is just life.
What's the problem, then?, you ask. You love it, read it, you say. Aha, here's where you are not me. Although I love it, I'm finding that it reads slowly, because I must stop and think about each passage. I can read the passage above, for example, set the book down and drift away in my own thoughts for a half hour or more. Can one be thrown off by reading something too damned good? I find that I don't want to pick it up because I'll only put it back down. (I never finished Tess of the D'Urbervilles because I loved it so much I couldn't bear for it to end. I still have two pages left after 5 years of reading it.)
There are also those books that are getting very close to joining the pile and may by the end of today. A new one by Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter, because it's very, very shiny and Oblomov, because some book I've read recently kept referencing it. Also drifting towards the stack is a book by Stephen Fry, because I signed it out from the library and it's winking at me suggestively, not to mention whatever new thing that Steve shoves at me.
I guess the only answer is to brew a giant pot of coffee; the Camels are just not going to cut it tonight.