My September reading was not quite as strenuous as last month, given that I read Middlemarch in August, from which I am still feeling the glow of accomplishment, a loathing of Casaubon and a sense of infinite depths.
Here you’ll see just one masterpiece–Austerlitz–and two books I didn’t quite finish, that I skimmed and eventually put down. Those are How to Disappear and Torpor. I had enjoyed the quirky, downbeat, pathetic style of Kraus’s other books, I Love Dick and Aliens and Anorexia, but the grimness of the times we’re living through made it impossible for me to make it through this one, which included a tour through Romania to adopt an orphan, and an accounting of the horrific abuse and neglect babies and children suffered under the Ceausescu regime. But though A Girl Returned was also the story of an abandoned child–in this case an adopted child “returned” to her birth family, which also had its horrific moments—it was redeemed by the love she found with her birth sister Adriana, a childhood friend, Patrizia, and a reconciliation of sorts with her adoptive mother. And the girl’s insistence on taking her own life back after she had been thrown among strangers.
Austerlitz is a book I read often. Sometimes I linger in bookstores, browsing the “S” section, hoping a new Sebald book would appear, like manna. Since it won’t, I read the existing ones over and over and over and each time they seem as if I had never read them before. Except The Emigrants, my favorite, which I almost have memorized.
Weather, much lauded, much recommended, had been partly derived from other people’s work. I recognized some of the (unattributed) podcasts and articles she’d gotten the material from. As such, I couldn’t ally myself with the book; I was already allied with the original material. But I liked the paragraph – paragraph – paragraph style.
And the rest of September’s reading? art criticism and Jungian psychology. Now, I am reading myths.
The stand out here, was of course, Middlemarch. I had read it in college and remember thinking to myself, “am I really going to expend my youth reading about agricultural practices in 19th century rural England?”￼￼ But of course, it is so much more. Many people have called it the greatest English novel, and, to disprove this opinion, I would have to read a whole lot more English novels. So I provisionally agree. ￼￼
Last month’s reading of Faulkner required the antidote of Morrison, and I read her essays, and her first novel The Bluest Eye. ￼￼ Also of undisputed greatness–though censors the world over have been trying to suppress it for years. I doubt they’ve read it. ￼
The book that left me straddling the fence, wavering in opinion, and wondering about its suitability for prize-winning￼, ￼was the International Booker Prize winner, The Discomfort of Evening–which announcement and ￼ceremony I accidentally happened upon as it was taking place live￼ online. Prizes invite dispute, which enlivens book reading in general, so I welcome them.￼￼ The book was great, but green. ￼￼I was amazed to learn that the distinguished judges read all the contenders, starting with 128 books.
And if you haven’t already read Signs Preceding the End of the World, run don’t walk to your local bookstore, and pick it up curbside. ￼
What I fault newspapers for is that day after day they draw our attention to insignificant things whereas only three or four times in our lives do we read a book in which there is something really essential. Since we tear the band off the newspaper so feverishly every morning, they ought to change things and put into the paper, oh, I don’t know, perhaps…Pascal’s Pensees! …and then, in a gilt-edged volume that we open only once in ten years…we would read that the Queen if Greece has gone to Cannes or that the Princesses de Leon has given a costume ball. This way the proper proportions would be te established.