Saturday, December 09, 2006

Something Different

Well, not something completely different, of course. That would be asking a little too much. I am feeling pretty uninspired to even complain about public affairs -- not that there isn't plenty to complain about, in the words and deeds of our current public nuisances -- and I've been sitting around brooding childishly about my upcoming surgery. It's a very minor surgery, as such things go, but I'm a horrible coward about needles. And apart from my tonsils being removed back in AD 1962 (I think barbers did that sort of work back then, using tame leeches and blacksmith tools), and getting vasectomy'd in late '85, I've been luxuriously surgery-free; so I'm nearly a rookie at this kind of thing. But I had e-mail yesterday from a woman who instructed me to post something about what I've been reading. I assume she means books, not online ephemera or paper periodicals.

I read less now than I once did. Anthony Burgess wrote somewhere (I think it was in 1985, but I'm too lazy to hobble over to the bookshelves and look it up) that reading is something you have to do when you're young, because the power to read seriously atrophies with age. I don't know if that's generally true, but it is something I've seen in myself. Not that I can't read "literature" any more -- just that I read less of it. In my case, I think it has something to do with the fact that, when I'm indoors in a comfortable chair in the usual reading setup, sleep tends to overtake me very quickly, no matter whether the book in hand is a good one or not.

Lots of them, regrettably, are not. (Good, that is.) The last book I read was a forgettable thing called Yes, We Have No Neutrons, which I picked up at the library because I'd browsed for a few minutes without seeing anything good, but I can't stand leaving emptyhanded. It was an exposé of several instances of bad science, by someone whose name I forget who appears regularly in "Scientific American." Before that was Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven -- flawed but worthwhile.

What I've been reading over the past few years have been the novels of a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. I was introduced to him by my son, who had been assigned Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at Purdue. An off-putting title ... but, once I got past that, a narrative steeped in the kind of bottomless sadness that I've since found is Murakami's stock-in-trade. Since then, I've read most of his books (haven't caught up with Sputnik Sweetheart yet). Overall, I think The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his best, although his most recent, Kafka on the Shore, is also a strong contender for that distinction. Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance, A Wild Sheep Chase, South of the Border, West of the Sun -- all excellent, all recommended. There are a couple of volumes of his short stories also out, and I haven't read either of them yet, but I'll catch up with them, too, at some point or other. Murakami's books are probably often assigned in literature courses, because they're all liberally provided with subtexts and analogies and embedded commentaries on philosophical and linguistic subjects (one of the dangers in Hard-Boiled Wonderland came from some creatures called "Semiotecs," for heaven's sake). But they're also affecting, and he makes you care about his characters. And there's that ever-present semi-sweet melancholy and tragic sadness. Powerful stuff.

So, that's what I'm reading. What are you reading?

1 comment:

Craig said...

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier


The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens