Sunday, October 29, 2006

The day passes

I've nearly achieved. I have only 20 pages of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas to go. Its been a literary anchor chained round my neck for weeks. I have an anal loyalty to books I buy - no matter how much I am bored or distracted by them, I simply have to finish. In today's non-linear tri-media world, with information broken into polygamous packets, novel-monogamy seems curiously out of kink. So why am I so faithful to the text? I think in part I have a secret admiration for anyone who can crank out a novel and get it published, so I have to see it through. But there's also a sense of anticipated guilt, which I can't yet explain. It's almost as if it would be an infidelity to the ritual of reading itself, and has little to do with content. The pages must be turned, and all the pages must be turned, just like the Orthodox Jew must start bobbing in front of the Wailing Wall. Perhaps, as with Catholicism, its impossible to stamp out all the embers of a quasi-Methodist upbringing...

I started the year with the dandy fine resolution to read a book a week. Here I am, its nearly November, and I've only read 15 novels. But then I torment myself with the quantity question: who gives a f**k how many books you read? Isn't it intensity of experience, rather than amount, that matters? Of course it is, but with so many other books out there, how do you know that the next book won't offer something more, something richer. If only I'd read thirty by now. But its been a tricky year- malaria, a stressful project to manage etc etc.

Looking back on the year so far, the book I've disliked the most is Philip Roth's American Pastoral. What a detestably self-indulgent navel-gazing overly-nostalgic onanistic spurt. Reading Roth offers one no hope and no opening. I shall not again, with just the one remaining chunk of life ahead of me. The best I've read so far? Definitely Stephen Mitchell's translation of Gilgamesh (the oldest literary work on the planet) - a wonderfully rich heroic-yet-humble tale from the best translator of Rilke. Second place goes to Chris Abani for Graceland - perhaps the most talented living Nigerian writer. I'm dying to finish Cloud Atlas, with Robert Harris' Imperium waiting in the wings, as well as Hughes' translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Now, Harris is a man in total mastery of character and narrative, immediately resuscitating the point of the novel. I guess anyone who counts Peter Mandelson as a close friend must have an ear well-attuned to the shadier forces that motivate political desire. It certainly comes out in his pen - all his previous books are gripping yet intelligent page turners.

The day meandered on. Bibi is in Lagos so the structure of my existence becomes re-formulated and open-ended. I re-watched Ray's Pather Panchali and drank a beer. I wrote another memory down for my memory book project. I searched for the subject of the memory on Google - vengeance is still mine - but found nothing - he fell down a hole in Delhi. It always surprises me how quite so many people continue to evade the mighty sweep of the Google radar. Old friends who seemed to have achieved nothing that the Internet has deemed worthy to code into html: surely their lives have had merit and significance? Or is the Internet still a myopic animal?

I looked up the Opium Wars on Wikipedia to learn yet another dastardly part of British history (it turns out that the main catalyst was Britain's new found addiction to drinking tea in the late 18th century: "how do we finance a trade deficit with China? I know, let's get them all hooked on opium, and let's force the Indians to sell it...") I made flapjacks - not quite as good as the last batch, but still 8 out of ten. A friend has a nasty bit of malaria - so our car and driver and sister Yetunde ferried her to the hospital. There was no power for most of the day, but we have immunity from black-outs thanks to our supa-dupa Outback inverter. I drove through darkened streets - never failing to wonder at driving in a capital city of 150 million people that cannot keep itself alight. The day came and went.


Shango,  1:03 am  

Tick, tock. ...

It doesn't take much to publish a "proper" book these days much less a novel.

I have the opposite problem from you, I buy only those books I know I will like because I research each one extensively, then ... I don't finish them. I do love the sight of a well-stocked library though, aye, what?

Tick, tock. ...

Ngozi,  2:54 pm  

no atlas is wonderful...i couldn't put it down...i read it all through the should have won the booker.

read nick hornby's 'polysyllabic spree.'

wonderful book on the highs and lows of reading.

About This Blog

  © Blogger templates Psi by 2008

Back to TOP