Wednesday, 21 January 2009

In which I reveal that I am thinly read, and seek your help

Today, I am prepared to show my ignorance to the world and to seek your advice on how to remedy my sad situation.

In the words of the great Eddie Izzard, I suspect that rather than being widely read, I am in fact, thinly read. I know part of the reason for this; you see I am a re-reader. If I like a book, I'll read it several times over the years. I love re reading a book. It's like visiting old friends, catching up on the gossip and finding that, in a comforting way, nothing has changed. Some books don't stand the test of time and when you return you wonder why you liked them to start with, but most are just as good second time round.

I'll put it another way. If you ate chocolate for the first time, and found it delicious, you wouldn't refuse to eat it ever again because you know what it tastes like. No, you'd go back for more. Well, that's what I do with books.

It frequently occurs to me how much else I might have read if only I didn't read the same books over and over. There's a lot of misspent reading time in my past. Then it occurs to me how many of the 'great authors' I have never even touched, because I was busy reading my favourite authors all over again. So this is where you come in. Here are some authors I have NEVER read and my pathetic reasons why; tell me, faithful blogging companions, should I read any of them? What am I missing?

Tolstoy - the books look so heavy - literally. I'm not sure I could actually take the physical strain of reading them.

Salman Rushdie - the man is prolific, I'll give him that, but are his books any good or just published becasue of the Fatwah and only read by people who eat at Nigella's house.

Kafka - now, did he write The Unbearable lightness of being? If he did then I have read that, but if he didn't then I have read nothing by him.

James Joyce - I did once start Ulysses but my brain exploded and I fell asleep with the weariness of the worlds that fell on my shoulders during Chapter 1, so I did not persevere. Did I miss out?

Emily Dickinson & Sylvia Plath - I put them together because I've read neither and for the same reason. To me (who has never read them!) they give off a rather depressing vibe of female angst and misery. It's not appealing but I am basing my opinion on very little other than third hand opinions (probably of people who have also not read them). Give me some first hand feedback. I know someone out there has read them.

Tom Stoppard - now it's decidedly odd that I have never read any Stoppard as I love his screenplays and the way he writes. Despite this I never pick up his books. This is, I think, because I am worried that I won't like them as much as his plays and films, and then I'll be cross. Am I right to worry?

Tolkein - I am reading Lord of the Rings, but only when I stay with one particular friend in London who has a copy by the Guest Bed. This means that in three years I have only got as far as chapter 4. It's slow progress. I don't actually own the book myself and I keep resisting buying it. I just don't know whether this is the wise decision of one not swayed with Tolkein fever, or the sign of an idiot missing out on one of the all time great storytellers.

Who else have I missed of this list? I'm so badly read I can't even tell you.


bonnie-ann black said...

well... perhaps a bit of dipping in is more what you need than a total immersion.

with James Joyce, definitely go for his shorter, more accessible stories, like "The Dubliners" or "Portrait of the Artist"... it took me three tries and 15 years of studying comparative mythology to finally get through "Ulysses". i'm saving "Finnegan's Wake" for my retirement. (which looks more and more unlikely with each passing year.)

"Lord of the Rings" is a tough one to start with; most people start with "The Hobbit" and/or some of his "Tales" like "Farmer Giles of Ham"...

Emily Dickenson and Sylvia Plath -- do yourself a favor and find some sort of "Great Poems You Need to Have Read" sort of thing, which will have their most representative poems. too much of ED and/or SP can make you beyond melancholy -- you might lock yourself in some remote cottage in wales and not come into town... oh. never mind.

As for Tolstoy -- again, start slow. go for his short stories, or even some of his religious essays. these will definitely put you in a position to say, "well, of course, everyone reads Anna Karenina, especially since Oprah's choice... but to really get a feel for Tolstoy's mind, you simply must read 'The Kingdom of God is Within You.'" you'll terrify them with your erudition.

Kafka -- again, you'll be fortunate in that some of his stuff is pretty short and some of it is pretty well known. at least by title. "Metamorphoses" is only about 95 pages. and i'm willing to bet that unless you start dating some cambridge don who is a specialist in late 19th century eastern european literature, not too many people are going to have read more than "Metamorphoses" either. if anyone says and insists they read "The Trial" you could suspect it was during university and they don't remember much of it anyway.

and besides, a wide pond is usually a shallow one. perhaps your reading pond is narrow, but deep.

Home Office Mum said...

I am skinnier than you on the book reading front. I too just reread the same ones over and over, although sadly many of them are from my childhood (reading age: 3) Katyboo's your gal for this one I feel

katyboo1 said...

If you read Tolkein it has to be the Hobbit. I found LOTR too tedious, too much poetry. Films are much, much better.

Joyce. Agree with Bonnie Ann, I have read everything except Finnegan's Wake. A chore. I recommend Portrait of the Artist.

I love Sylvia, and liked Emily. I am a poetry head though. Some of Sylvia's poems are actually nice and jolly. Only a few mind you.

Anna Karenina was fabulous. I loved it. It made me cry. Best to have some sort of family tree. Everyone has at least three names and it gets a bit muddled. Haven't read any more. War and Peace is on my list.

Kafka. I read the Trial several times. It is utterly miserable. I had to study it. I started The Castle and never finished it. Very claustrophobic. Imagine Camus but less jolly! I will read Metamorphosis but only out of a sense of guilt.

Try The Plague by Camus if you haven't read it. Same era as Kafka, way more cool.

or Heart of Darkness by Conrad...

cynicalscribble said...

Tolkien - as someone else said, start with the Hobbit, it's really easy to read.

It took me a while to get through LOTR, but having read them before I seen the films, it was well worth it (I thought the books were much better). I don't think a book as the same effect if you read it after you've seen the films - you've effectively already got the story/images in your head so I don't think it has the same impact.

I nearly bought War and Peace last week, but decided at the last minute not to. As with Kafka and Ulysses - I'd love to read them...but I'm almost certain that my brain would implode 50 pages in.

bevchen said...

Oh gosh, I haven't read Tolstoy or Kafka or Plath or Dickinson either and I consider myself to be well read. I have read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings though, and even started the Silmarillion (if that's how you spell it). Wouldn't bother with the last one if I were you though - it's ridiculously confusing.

By Rushdie I have read Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I thought it was good. It was in German though so I've no idea what the English version is like.

What about Homer? I read the Odyssey last year. The version I had was quite enjoyable.

bonnie-ann black said...

oh, i'm a poetry head too, and like some of both ED and SP, but i prefer something by Marianne Moore, or Edna St. Vincent Millay, as well as W.B. Yeats, or John Donne, or Fitzgerald.

i loved LoTR, and had read it several times before the movies came out, but had started with the Hobbit and it gave me a feel for Tolkein's language and rhythym.

oh lord! Camus', The Plague: "Mother died today; or maybe it was yesterday!" why is it that all "great" literature is depressing? i did not cry over Anna Karenina. i don't cry over a lot of supposedly tragic and doomed things. i am a cold-hearted bitch, i know.

i recommended Metamorphoses mainly on the strength of its being short. The Trial is 300 something pages of torture. reading it *is* the Trial.

i read "Satanic Verses" by Rushdie and it was a big fat shrug. as in "huh? that was what the fuss was all about?"

any of you ever dipped into Fay Weldon, or Muriel Sparks?

and i enjoy a bit of Greek adventure as much as the next person -- in a good translation. a bad one is really tedious. it's been a while since i read any of the great poems. you've picqued my interest again now.

i have to say, in the matter of reading Joyce's "Ulysses" that it was a slog, long, confusing and demanding... it took me six weeks and i couldn't read more than 60 pages in a day! and sometimes i had to go back and re-read things more than once. but as a brain stretcher, if you want to give your mind a bit of exercise, it was wonderful.

justme said...

Oh dear. Despite the fact that I HAVE actually read most of the 'classics' ( not Dickens....I hate Dickens and have only read the obvious ones ), to be honest it was a long time ago. I used to read four our five books a week minimum. When I was a child it was a LOT more than that...(I was a bit sad..)
Right. Thing is, most of the authors you have mentioned that you have not yet read, I HAVE read, and some even enjoyed at the time, in my youth.....but really, I couldn't be bothered now! I take it you HAVE read Jane Austin? Because I will read her over and over (agree with you that there is NO point to only reading a good book once. Gosh! I have just realised how TOTALLY I have changed, because I don't really read much any more....and when I do, its not going to be classics that I didn't bother with first time round.
Not helpful.
Tolstoy....I adored War and Peace, didn't like Anna Karenina as much. ( But I was 13)
Rushdie. Don't bother.
Kafka. Went through a phase when I read the lot. All at once. Loved. Was 18 at the time.
James Joyce. Curiously, just couldn't get on with. Though I feel I SHOULD have liked...I didn't.
Dickinson and Plath......prefer Plath, but actually all way to dreary and depressing. Although a bit beautiful in parts..(Plath)
Stoppard. Never read either! Strange..
Tolkien....LOVED the Lord of the Rings when I was 13, tried to read as an The Hobbit is still good tho.
Is that any help??
Actually, you have possibly inspired me to do a blog of what I read now...(apart from blogs, that is....)

Welsh Girl said...

Bonnie-ann. OK, I think Ulysses can stay on teh shelf for now, along with LOTR. It seems that my suspicions regarding SP & ED were not so far off the mark, I wouldn't want to end up as a deranged hermit on a hill.....oops. Like the thinking on Kafka and Tolstoy though. May have to go onto Amazon Used and Abused!

Welsh Girl said...

Home Office Mum - phew! I'm not the only out there then!

Katyboo - Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude is worse still for names - everyone is called the same thing! Great book though. I liked the Heart of Darkness, which I have read and think I will head off for Camus before Kafka.

Cynicalscribble - this is my worry too - that my pea like brain won't cope with some of them, but that if I don't ever read them my brain will atrophy and die! Aaargh, the dilemma.

Welsh Girl said...

So has nobody read Tom Stoppard then? Darn it. Though it looks like I can cross Salman Rushdie off the list as he doesn't seem to have inspired any great reviews.

Justme - I have read a lot of Austen but I have to say I am not a huge fan. I like the way she captures people and her conversation is great but her plots are too forced for me. In persuasion she suddenly introduces a random person who solves the whole plot dilemma and never appears again (the friend in Bath). That really irritated me

Mr H said...

Books are rubbish.

It's why telly, internet porn and 'jazz mags' were invented.

Not for nothing did telly great Telly Savalas sing "If a picture paints a thousand words."

Welsh Girl said...

Mr H - Aaaah, you see Telly never lets us down. I shall put my books away and get the remote out! ps - thanks for dropping by!

the Barrister said...

Tolkein: read The Hobbit to a child and not otherwise.

A friend who knows Tom Stoppard admitted over dinner that she had no idea what his stuff was about. He was delighted, as he knows that but no-one will actually say so. He finds it a surprise that so many bother. Don't.

Dickinson is hard going unless you are in a chronologically-apt frame of mind: she grates a bit on the modern sensibility but even when sublime, is probably not worth the work. Plath is best forgotten.

Joyce! Not for pleasure.

Rushdie? Read Rohinton Mistry instead, though I've never understood the popularity of A Fine Balance (good) over Family Matters (excellent and very funny). Of Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is slight, but has a romantic unfamiliarity sufficient to make it worth reading with a 12 year-old.

The surprise of Tolstoy's War and Peace is that it's actually a bit of a page-turner, but don't read it all at once. Like the Archers or Coronation Street, the characters are woven through the plot so that you can read a hundred pages and come back a month later without missing much.

Kafka's Metamorphosis is a bit off-putting but the Trial is tremendous. Provided you are feeling robust and can enjoy delving into bleakness before closing the book and having a cheering cuppa and a biscuit, the Trial really is worth reading. Dostoyevsky's "Idiot" is from the same stable: a story from the point of view of a person who should belong but doesn't. Reading your writing, I think you'd like both.

Good luck!

Welsh Girl said...

The Barrister - thanks for that. I think I am going to have to go and track down The Trial on Amazon used and abused and start there. Relieved to hear that I am not missing anything with Joyce though...

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