I’m stuck in a book.
Judging from my booklist it looks like I started “Something Happened” by Joseph Heller at some point in March of this year. When I picked it up yesterday, I reckon that I’m something less than 25% of the way through. Progress, clearly, has been slow. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last… like most people I go through phases…. but it’s always frustrating to be stuck like this.
Sometimes this happens because the book you’re reading simply isn’t very good. The solution to this is easy: put it down and start another book. Life’s too short to read crap books. I learned that the hard way when I slogged my way through the “Da Vinci Code” even after hating it from the very first sentence (“Renowned curator….” What kind of a way is that to start a book?). Sometimes it’s not that the book in question is a bad book per se, it’s just that you’re reading it at the wrong time for you. I can remember hating Dickens when I was forced to read “Our Mutual Friend” at school, but found him to be a delight when I picked him up many years later. Reading a classic voluntarily, it seems, can make all the difference (although I still don't really care for "Emma").
Mind you, even with Dickens, I had something of a sticky patch with “Great Expectations”. In the end, I enjoyed the book enormously, but I won’t deny that I found it somewhat heavy going reading it relatively soon after finishing David Copperfield, which I loved. With the best will in the world, Pip and David’s stories follow a fairly similar curve, at least in part, and for a while I found it somewhat turgid wading my way through another set of false-starts and wrong-turnings made by a young lad from the country when he first arrived in London and set himself up in a trade.
There’s nothing wrong with “Something Happened”. I’d been warned that the title is somewhat ironic and that, in fact, nothing happens…. But the writing style is engaging and the subject matter is something – the utter futility of corporate life – that I think I might want to have a go at writing about myself (well, if the quality of Heller's writing doesn't make me feel desperately inadequate, anyway). It’s just that, well, I’ve put the book down and haven’t really picked it up in three months.
To be fair, that period does coincide almost exactly with my subscription to the New Yorker, so it’s not as though I haven’t been reading at all (and the pressure of the new edition arriving onto my iPad every Monday without fail is a marvellous incentive to keep reading, even if the quality of the writing itself isn't plenty motivation enough)… it’s just that I want to spend more time reading books.
Inspired by the article about great American novelists I was reading the other day, I actually picked up some more books at the weekend. I thought about downloading them directly onto my Kindle, but it turns out that my hardback copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy was actually about the same price as an electronic copy of one of those books… so I bought the hardback copy. I’ve read “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men”, both of which I very much enjoyed, so I thought I’d read more of his stuff. I also picked up a hardback copy of “A Farewell to Arms” for £2, which seemed like a bargain to me and I'm justing setting out on a Hemingway voyage, having loved "The Sun Also Rises" and with the short stories on my TBR list. I also have a desire to re-read "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Catcher in the Rye" and probably some more Steinbeck too. There’s so little time and so many books.
When I was a teenager, I used to read a lot of science-fiction and fantasy novels… which is fine… but I had a moment of clarity when I was about twenty that I hadn’t read anywhere near as widely as I might have done and felt intellectually and culturally poorer because of it. There’s nothing wrong with reading Terry Pratchett novels or Dragonlance or David Eddings or David Gemmil or Gerorge RR Martin or whoever, but I promised myself then and there that I would read more contemporary literature and Twentieth century classics. I started with “The World According to Garp” by John Irving, who remains one of my favourite authors… but that was just the start and from there I went on to discover Paul Auster, Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie and other fantastic, inspiring writers like them. I like reading books. For as long as I can remember, I have defined myself as a reader, and I just don’t feel like I’m reading enough.
Perhaps less time in Skyrim would help…perhaps not entirely uncoincidentally, I bought that game at around about the same time I started reading "Something Happened". Hmm. Well there’s 170 hours or so I could have spent in a good book, eh?
I’ll start tomorrow, maybe. There's still a few more Draugr I need to deal with first....not to mention the fact that I haven't even started last week's New Yorker yet....time, time, time, see what's become of me.
a philadelphia story
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