Thursday, November 02, 2006

It's been a long time since I have even considered reading Bob Woodward, but I've begun his new book, State of Denial, because he finally seems to have decided that his job is not to be the cabinet's court scribe.
One of the rules of reading that Daniel Pennac describes in Better Than Life is the "right to not finish a book." Which I was relieved to be reminded of after chucking a bunch of books mid-read, including Cryptonomicon, which I was about half-way through before something else caught my eye and a friend whose judgement of SciFi I consider much better than mine said didn't get much better. (I actually enjoyed the book very much, but maybe it was my quasi-ADD, fueled by piles of other alternatives that distracted me. Borges said that he imagined paradise as a kind of library. But when you constantly get distracted like that, it can also be a kind of hell if your not careful.)

As Pennac suggests, "We have a choice. We can conclude that it's all our fault, that we're a few bricks shy of a load, that deep down we're basically stupid. Or we can appeal to the very controversial notion of taste and begin to explore what our tastes are. ... It has the advantage of offering the rare pleasure of rereading and understanding why we don't like a certain book."

Thus, I refuse to feel guilty for not getting very far into Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. It's fine and all that she won the Booker prize. And I concede to the (mostly women) who have told me it's brilliant. You can tell on the first page how precise her diction can be and eye for detail. But still, after a few pages, it wore thin. I don't feel that way about her essays on politics, however. They remind me of Orwell. Quite clear, driven by moral passion.

Orwell is one of those writers that any writer should read and reread. In fact, I picked up a short collection of his essays and read about half the collection (before putting the book down -- the benefit of that is you don't feel like you've missed anything). Including his great essay on Dickens, which was enough to remind me that there's no point in collecting any of Dickens' novels -- because I won't read them. Orwell's essay, although an appreciation of Dickens, also convinced me that I wouldn't get much out of them -- except, perhaps, for The Gilded Age. But why read that when I haven't started Kevin Phillips' Wealth and Democracy?
Alas, a while since I've checked in.

Earlier this year, I reread Ulysses for a trip to Dublin, and dabbled in the Wake. But the best surprise was stumbling into some other famous (and infamous) Irish writers who I had not read before, including Flann O'Brien, whose Dalkey Archive was pretty amusing. Another book, The Book of Myles remains unread: a collection of his newspaper columns, which are quite well known.

Travelers to Ireland should eschew the highbrow for books like the hilarious McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy, which my brother Nate passed along from an Irish drinking buddy who took us out to some of Dublin's swankier spots where the foreign flaneurs are likely to run into Molly the mouseburgers and other demivierges.

"The world is packed with good women. To know them is a middle-class education."
-- Oscar Wilde