Copyright 2012 by Paula S, Jordan
Like Chuck Parker (fine post, Chuck) I still did not get around to most of the titles on my BIBMTGT list, but I did take a look at a few. Unfortunately I found that for two or three of those I peeked into, I have waited too long.
Though I saw much to admire in the excerpts that I sampled of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), I feel no great urge to read further. It is a fine dense book, which I tend to like when the characters and storylines grab me, but here, not really. In the first place, at least in the segments I read, the key characters were all men. And while I felt for their plight–awaiting an expected nuclear attack–I also noticed that a great part of the story was omitted. Perhaps most importantly, though I am not so naive as to think we are forever safe from nuclear attack, our immediate threats today are on a smaller, intensely personal scale: terrorist attacks on single buildings or buses or planes. The emotional impacts of the two kinds of threat are very different. I would likely have seen much more in this book in the decade in which it was written.
Marge Piercy’s Vida (1979) struck me in much the same way, at least from the standpoint of relevance. The main character in this highly praised book is a woman, a brilliant and highly visible activist in the political violence of the 1960’s, passionately dedicated to the cause for which she has risked her life and freedom. In the 1970’s she lives in the underground, separated from anything like a normal life but vividly observant, seeing without touching the people she passes and the world she passes through. There is much here that should interest me, but with all the time and politics that separate us from Vida’s world, it just doesn’t draw me in. A real pity.
With The Worm Ouroboros (1926) by E. R. Eddison, what stopped me was the stylized language of that era’s epic fantasy, which I hadn’t read in quite some time. Either Beth or nrlymrtl (I think, I can’t relocate the post) made a similar comment recently on such overblown medievalism and I thought at the time that she was being a bit hypercritical. Well, I see now what she meant. I read a page or two and simply couldn’t imagine a whole book of it. Still, many friends have recommended Eddison’s works and I may very well read him another day, when I’m more in the mood for it, or more tolerant. I hope so.
Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (1989) posed an entirely different challenge: a book that draws on a literary and cultural tradition so removed from my own that I couldn’t “get” the references, and acquiring the necessary background seemed impossible. (I read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum with a stack of medieval references from several cultures beside me, and enjoyed it very much, but knew I was still missing things.) After reading the initial chapter of Verses I knew I’d pretty much missed the whole thing and almost put it aside. Then I did something that I almost never do. I looked ahead to the last chapter. Oh My! So many intriguing hints of the story I had missed! And I remembered the indispensable Key to Eco’s The Name of the Rose. So, I have added another book to my list (one that I hope exists somewhere): a Key to the Satanic Verses. Or at least a directory to Muslim culture. In any case, I will do my best to read the Verses, or other (less culturally challenging) books from Rushdie’s pen.
So, not so much happy discovery in the books I sampled. Maybe they have remained unread because I knew they would offer challenges. But there is a lesson here: I will visit the other older books on my list as soon as possible. I have also started a new list: Recent-and-Contemporary-Books-I-Really-Will-Read-and-Soon. I am building it largely from the authors and works I learn about here on Darkcargo.
Thank you guys for sharing what you read!