Always the tradeoff: If I’m reading copiously, I have less time to write. In lieu of a proper post, here is a rundown on what I’ve been reading, and a teaser for the posts I hope it will produce.
1. In April Toni Morrison’s new novel, God Help the Child, will be released. In anticipation, I’ve begun a chronological read-through of her work. This past month I’ve revisited her three early novels: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), and Song of Solomon (1977). Coming to them again after many years, I find I can read them without the distraction of bedazzlement. I already know that, at her best – of which these three are solid representatives – she is among the greatest of American writers. I have also read enough of her over the years to know that she is not always at her best. A Mercy, for example, was stunning, while its successor, Home, was thin. I’m now reading Tar Baby, a novel which I disliked when I read it something like twenty years ago. I’m eager to see how my reading of it has changed over time. After this comes Beloved, among the handful of novels that changed my understanding of what a novel could do to the heart and mind of a reader. Look for further accounts of my survey of her work.
2. One of my favorite authors, Saul Bellow, has his centenary coming up on June 10th. In December I read Herzog for the first time and realized that a first reading of this book is a bit like a first coat of paint on an unprimed wall, no way for one mind to cover what is to be covered here, not in one go. Mr. Sammler’s Planet is next up for me and I can’t wait. I am currently reading his collection of essays, It All Adds Up, and feeling myself in the presence of one of the great, loving, advocates for the modern mind; he wraps a strong and affirming arm around around my intellectual shoulders and says, “You can so go at the world like this.” I’ve read the opening essay on Mozart several times before and every time find its defense of the idea of transcendence positively joyous. More about him for sure!
3. I have long known of the Uruguayan novelist Juan Carlos Onetti, but until this month, I had never read him. For Christmas I gave my friend Nathan a copy (in Spanish of course) of his novel El Astillero (The Shipyard) and told him to let me know when he was ready to read it so I could find an English translation and read it with him. Early in February he gave the word. It’s a fairly short book whose pages, I found, seem to multiply as each one is turned. Slow, dense, deeply melancholy, brilliant, handily outstripping the more famous European existentialists in existential sorrow. A few days ago, Nathan texted me from the used bookstore where he works to tell me he had found a copy of another Onetti book, Bodysnatcher, and should he hold it for me. It now sits atop the pile by my bed. From the one book I’ve read so far, and the feel of this next book, I am persuaded that he is one of the great, neglected writers of the the 20th century, fully deserving of a Nobel prize that never arrived for him. He should not be missed.
4. In December I read Naked Masks, a collection of five plays by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, a genius who has never achieved quite the securely canonical standing of, say, Strindberg, Ibsen, Shaw, or Synge. They are grim, funny, brainy, unnerving dramas, which, even after nearly a century show the fringes of the experimental cloth from which they were cut. The most famous is Six Characters In Search of an Author. My favorite is Henry IV. After reading them I found myself wishing with all my heart that I lived in a time and a place where these plays would be performed.
5. I’m hoping this will be the year I complete a reading of the novels of Patrick White. I spent most of January reading his huge, bitter, writhing The Vivisector. It will take me another month or two to catch my breath before moving on to The Eye of the Storm. I’m terribly curious to see the 2011 movie made from this novel by Australian director Fred Schepisi. It stars Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling, and Judy Davis. Twitchy, grisly fun, I expect.
I hope this update persuades you that 2015 promises to be a rich year here at The Stockholm Shelf. Check back soon!