There are trivial truths and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.

-Neils Bohr

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It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Not wanting to talk about the political and social horrors (which are also political horrors, and vice versa) going on in the US right now is, tragically, the reason why I’ve had Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here for so long and not read it, though I wanted to, because I felt I would have to talk about it, the shitstorm that’s been American politics especially over the last couple of years (but actually going back much much further), which, of course, is the whole reason titles such as this one, and Philip Roth’s The Plot against America, and all the other alternate history dreams of fascist America have been in the public eye again of late. So I’m going to stay strong. Having said that, I will say no more. All you need to know here is why I’m reading this book, and now you know. I have a different blog for the political stuff.

-Reading the Why

[End of Part Six]

 

First among Sequels and One of Our Thusdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

The story is this: We were in Scotland, which is in the UK, meaning High Streets and charity shops with lots and lots of cheap secondhand books. Our kind of paradise. And having lived for the past 8 years in a non-English speaking country, a little like seeing the daylight upon being rescued from your evil stepfather’s basemen–no, not quite that bad. Maybe more like being released from prison after 10 years, only without the blood debts and the samsara of criminal entanglement… also no? I know: its like coming out of your log cabin at the beginning of Spring and seeing the snow melting away and the crocuses pushing through. Okay? Okay. Suffice it to say, we visited a lot of them, Oxfam, Cancer Research, Heart Foundation, and all the others jostling for attention, and every one eerily identical.

We were in a dedicated bookshop by Oxfam and had stumbled upon First among Sequels and One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde but weren’t sure if we should/could take them as we were travelling light, First among Sequels was in hardcover, and I was already carrying 6 vintage cardboard world globes, almost exactly the sort of design thing you don’t want to fall in love with when backpacking Scotland (or anywhere else) when a girl came down the aisle, espied the books in our hands and exclaimed, ‘Damn! If only I’d been here 2 minutes earlier!’ after which of course we had to buy them, and with a guilty tickle.

First among Sequels is the fifth book in the Thursday Next series. The book before that, Something Rotten, is actually one of my favourite books and I have no excuse for why I never sought out the sequels except maybe we all sometimes just want to hold on to that special, perfect feeling after reading a really good book and not risk breaking the spell. It’s stupid but also real, so maybe not so stupid?

-Reading the Why

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Still haven’t decided if I like Jonathan Lethem. Motherless Brooklyn is my third. Is it strange that I keep reading him until I do?[1]

Sometimes I feel like I waste my time reading books that aren’t great,[2] but can we really only read books we love? Even if I were to always read exactly what I want, unfettered by what I have access to and/or can afford to buy, I still wouldn’t be able to avoid reading bad books. I could certainly weed out books I’m more likely not going to enjoy but that’s a broad brush as often wrong as right. Because, ultimately, there’s only one way to know if you like a book, and that is to read it. Or maybe, to paraphrase Billy Preston, if you can’t read the book you love, love the book you read.

-Reading the Why

[1] And by that, do I mean until I decide, or until I like him?
[2] Don’t repeat that too loud, I don’t want the people who shake their head at me for always finishing the books I start to feel vindicated.[3]
[3] And that’s not the problem anyway; how many times have I hated the first 150 pages of a book and ended up loving it?

 

“If I were to smile,”
She unto me began, “thou wouldst become
Like Semele, when she was turned to ashes.
Because my beauty, that along the stairs
Of the eternal palace more enkindles,
As thou hast seen, the farther we ascend,
If it were tempered not, is so resplendent
That all thy mortal power in its effulgence
Would seem a leaflet that the thunder crushes.”

-Dante, The Divine Comedy

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Packed Matt Ruff’s[1] Lovecraft Country for my trip to Scotland, a present from a friend who had a voucher she didn’t know what to do with. The book, not the trip. We’re going for a week, a couple days each in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and we’re also taking the Harry Potter train at Fort William. But the trip’s still two days away, not enough time to start and finish something else, but I also don’t want to take two books with me or be left stranded with nothing to read half way through the trip. What do? Eternal conundrum!

So today, while hesitating over what to do, I made my single greatest discovery since getting a smart phone: there’s a Project Gutenberg app! The rest of the night burnt through as I greedily downloaded one epic poem after another: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s Divine Comedy, nothing that I can see myself sitting down and really ‘reading’, (I may force myself though some difficult and/or horrid books, but this is another level entirely), but I figure if I had it on my phone, I would be able to dip into it every now and then when I’m, say, waiting for the M29 bus, digest a verse or two at a time. I decided it probably wouldn’t be part of Reading the Why, more something I return to over the weeks and months, background music, so to speak.

Now it’s two days later and, surprise! I’m actually 15 cantos into Dante’s Inferno. Like I said, I never thought this stuff was readable, palatable, stomachable, in anything but small doses, one or two verses at a time, once or twice a week, but actually it is. It’s not easy, mind you. I’m reading two translations simultaneously–switching back and forth whenever I get bogged down in the language–plus using Wikipedia for an arching overview. But I’m actually enjoying it! Though it does feel like I’ll lose the thread if I stop and have to start again, so what does that mean for Matt Ruff?

-Reading the Why

[1] In my opinion, a hugely underrated author.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The friend who lent me this book said she read it knowing nothing about the book beforehand, not what the book was about, not where the author was from, not even if the author was a woman or man, and she suggested I do the same. But its not that easy with books, even if I were more inclined to blind dates, which I am not. It’s not the same as sitting down on front of the TV with a bowl of pot noodles and catching a random movie 10 minutes in. You have the title. You have the author’s name and immediate associations. You have the blurb and decontextualised praise from newspapers or other authors, the choice of which says much and influences your expectations. There’s the cover design, the colour and presence or lack of glitter. Plus, of course, working in a bookshop, and generally being interested in books, its difficult not to have heard something about books worth reading; and if its not worth reading, then why bother at all?

So while I know very little about The Vegetarian and Han Kang, I have heard of it, I know it’s by an Asian author (Korean?), I don’t know if it’s a him or her, and I know its about family dynamics bigger than just the fact that the protagonist has decided to become vegetarian. The cover is pretty. There is minimal glitter.

-Reading the Why