Progress, for a change 

So, I have been reading a lot this week. I took a couple of months off during the spring, which forced me to abandon my annual Goodreads reading challenge and my stated goal of reading 120 books thus year. That was painful, as part of my “I am managing quite well, thank you” identity is based on being able to read quickly and thoughtfully. 

But I had realized that reading a hundred and twenty ordinary novels a year was not actually making me happier or healthier or a better person. Mostly, the books were forgettable and I have little recollection of a large percentage of them. It was basically a substitute for watching television and not any more memorable than most episodes of a typical tv show. 

So, I stopped reading junky novels and I am happier. My to-read pile is monumental, however, so I am working hard to whittle it down.

I read Virginia Woolf’s first novel, Mrs Dalloway. It was actually very moving, mostly because I know that she eventually lost her battle against bipolar disorder and drowned herself in the river near her home. The interwoven stories of the various people in the book are interesting, and her style is just so sharp and bright that it makes the other postmodern hero, Joyce, seem like a conceited ass. I liked Mrs Dalloway very much.

The other novel I finished, A House for Mr Biswas, by V S Naipaul, was a good deal more difficult to love. It’s so episodic, and the main character such an unlikable jerk, that I had to read it in chunks. I think it’s an important work in terms of exploring the notion of mortality and family and the purpose of life, but it is not a book for the typical reader. Most people will quit long before the 650 pages are finished. I know, I quit it several times myself before finally pushing through to the end! I will probably go on to read more by Naipaul, however, as this book is supposed to be the only one with this weird structure. In the end, and interesting book, but maybe not a great one.

Next up is finishing Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence. I am about 2/3 of the way through it and it’s been a powerful experience so far. I think I would have finished it earlier if not for reading the Woolf novel, because Lawrence’s very elaborate, elegant, and slow images just were too much to handle after Woolf’s crisp style. 

Anyway, back to the fray. I think I will go in for something lighter after this, maybe Saul Bellow. I think reading Henry James right after Lawrence would be too much.


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