Inaugural Monday book report

It can’t be avoided: it’s September, month of back-to-schooling, the real New Year. I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to arrange my time this autumn, and after neglecting this space for July and August for some good old-fashioned time away from a computer, I want to talk a little bit about books. I love the focus that Poetry Wednesday allows, but – this is awful – I don’t read all that much poetry, not frequently. I love it, but despite my best intentions, it’s not a mainstay of my reading diet. I read fiction. Ever since I hung up my hat as a scholar, I resolved to read as broadly or as narrowly as I felt like. I’ve been reading with the dedication of a PhD student studying for comprehensive exams for five years. It’s a hobby, sure, but more, a habit into which I’ve poured more time than anything else, except child-rearing, of course. I don’t have all that many people around me who have the privilege of reading this way – as if their lives depended on it. It’s a vaguely fulfilling process, but one I’d like to think on in writing, which I haven’t done in ages and ages.

This week I finally finished Herta Müller’s The Hunger Angel, which I picked up only because I knew she’d won the Nobel Prize. Yup. I read it in fifteen minute increments after putting N. to bed and before I tiptoed downstairs to can and freeze a winter’s worth of tomatoes, while thinking about eating slices of bread and potato skins. About bounty. It’s easy, now that we’re back home and have a car again, to buy ridiculous amounts of unnecessary food. Going to the big grocery store for the first time after our return, both A. and I realized that the produce section alone was easily ten times the size of our local shop in Germany. Abundance. Waste.

Since then, I started AS Byatt’s Ragnarök. I’m a big fan of Byatt, even if she intimidates me – she is so smart, and her novels are just deeply satisfying. The Children’s Book, though, felt a little bit overstuffed to me – it was so ambitious in scope that I kept thinking it would have somehow settled better as a traditional Victorian three-volume novel. Ragnarök is a smaller beast. It’s not that it’s a slimmer read – Byatt’s fairy stories are brief, but muscular – but it seems almost anemic, like the “thin child” who is the main character isn’t quite holding up her end of the deal. The book is part of Canongate’s Myths series, of which I’ve read a couple titles that have been similarly strained. I mean, everyone loves a foundation story, but I think re-imaginings are better when they happen unexpectedly. Ursula LeGuin’s review is an apt one (and how fun to discover it!). But then I haven’t finished the book yet.

Picking up Byatt again got me reading her Paris Review interview, and now I have a new book for my (large, over-ambitious) list: John Gage’s Color and Culture.


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