Sunday, July 03, 2011

Book Becalmed

I've become becalmed on the Sea of Books. For the past two or three weeks, I've just not been in the reading headspace. I just can't seem to find anything good to read, when I even feel like reading at all. I've begun and then discarded several books, and the ones I have read all the way through haven't really satisfied me. For someone so bibliomaniacal as I, you can see why it's my most dreaded occasional experience. Perhaps the summer heat has brought with it a certain lassitude, a literary ennui. Thankfully, next week A Dance with Dragons comes out, so a steady wind should rise soon to speed me on my way.


slyder said...

Dear lad, you need never suffer from a lack of reading. If you have never read the essays of Michel de Montaigne or Francis Bacon, run, do not walk to you PC! Bacon wrote in English and is in the public domain. He distilled his career as a Jacobean courtier and politician into his essays. Each one is easily accessible and can be read in a brief sitting.

Far more delicious is Montaigne. Find the Frame or Screech translations. I presume you are not a francophone. These are NOT in the public domain. It is like having a conversation with someone you come to know and love, for all his foibles and inconsistencies. Montaigne's essays get longer as one moves through the book. Here are decades of reading. One cannot read these writers only once and understand them.

Taken together, a firm understanding of these two books are the equivalent of a liberal arts degree. Of course, there has been 400 years of civilization since them, but here is a good place to start.

Plutarch and Suetonious are almost contemporaries of each other in the 2nd century CE. The latter historian is full of gossip and interesting facts. Did you know that Julius Caesar was "every wife's husband and ever husband's wife". You can never "read up" these guys.

For novels to be read again and again, I recommend Gore Vidal's Burr, Lincoln, Julian, Creation, and his other historical novels. Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea) are amazing. Kurt Vonnegut? Patrick O'Brian's Aubry-Maturin 21-volume series? Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game? Christopher Bram's Almost History is an amazing gay novel. So is Mark Merlis' An Arrow's Flight. This updated story of the Trojan War where we first meet Achille's son dancing nude in a gay bar, shouldn't work but somehow manages to wow the reader. Even Jane Austen is fun if approached as a good read and not as a classic.

As I public librarian I get furious at librarians that think only in terms of the latest stuff. Nobody can keep up, so even in the recent past, there is good stuff you missed.

Frank said...

Oh, there are whole universes of books I've never read. I sometimes lay in bed lamenting the books I'll never get to read. I just have been having a bit of literary ennui of late; nothing really satisfies.