This summer (I’m writing this in mid-August), my reading took an expected turn when I discovered a podcast that might as well have been made to order for my interests: Backlisted, which is about old books. I don’t recall what put me on to it, but looking over their list of old episodes, I saw many writers I already liked, and sensed that whatever these folks picked out to discuss would be of interest to me one way or the other. Each episode was so full of enticing descriptions of books that even though I already had a to-read pile that was sufficient for summer, I wanted to read NOW.
A cock-eyed ramble among the seaside towns of Kent, taking in the weird, the violent, the homosexual, the gossipy, the scandalous, the atmospheric,the readerly and literary, the murderous, the psychologically-twisted, imporverished, the fascistic, mysterious, pathetic, minor celebrity adjacent, in a mélange of deep inquiries and rambling anecdote given out by the kind of slightly spooky great talker whom you both want to listen to forever and back away from slowly. I read the book again a day or two after finishing it, and then lent it to a friend.
Also read “Darkness Falls From the Air” by Nigel Balchin, a world war two story of London in the blitz, which again, I’d never have heard of, and which was compared, on the podcast, to Greene’s “The End of the Affair” much to the detriment of the latter (a book I’ve loved a time or two.) This one is about a government official in London who’s allowing his beloved wife to have an affair with a literary twep because it’s the war and who is he to preclude her from having a life while they wait for the big bombing to begin, except that of course while he’s being very polite and repressed and civilized about it, he hates it. It’s mostly dialogue of the kind that you long to hear coming from the black and white mouths of Bacall and Bogart, though they wouldn’t really do those clipped upperish English 1930s voices. I imagined them though, with maybe Leslie Howard as the squirrely lover. A perfect downer of a book, which I mean in the sense that it’s melancholy, the inevitability of its surprises, and its ending, worked completely, a perfect unit of hope and despair.
With no prompt from this podcast, but because of a Meet-up reading group I really wanted to get off my butt and attend (that is, the small part of my psyche that wants to get off and usually is squashed by the larger part that wants to stay recumbent), I read The Alexandria Quartet of Lawrence Durrell. I owned thse books, and had tried, off and on since the 1980s, to read “Justine“, always falling out in the first 30 pages with a sense that the characters and narration and apparent emotional situation of the story were overwhelmingly pretentious. This time, with the idea that I’d go meet other people and hear what they thought of it, I persisted, and pretty much a page or so after my old falling-off point, I was gripped, and realized that in fact this book was just the kind I like best, set in a strange location, slightly overwrought, vivid, difficult to track, and soaked in all five senses. And then as I read the rest of the quartet I was delighted to find it was one of those works that delves into point of view, into how inaccurate are our perceptions of one another, how unknowable everything is. As the subsequent books reveal the apparent ‘reality’ that’s concealed from the narrator of “Justine”, worlds open up. And ultimately the overwroughtness of it all was just the kind of overwroughtness that I eat up with a spoon.
What I’m reading right now: “The Year of Reading Dangerously” by Andy Miller, which makes me want to shout: “Comrade!” (I tweeted the author my compliments), “Maiden Voyage” by Denton Welch, and “Hotel Du Lac” by Anita Brookner.
Finding exciting books and a revival of my reading intensity is this year’s one bright spot, in the midst of freelance longueurs, the collapse of my aged parents’ independence, and our appalling political dilemmas. A cliche to say reading is a life-line, but for me it’s literally true; I don’t know if I’d have made it out of my childhood much less this far, without books. (I may write more about why this is, but not yet.)
Finally, I’m new to the book-and-reader-blogging world, and frankly don’t know where to begin there either. I suppose I’ll find like-minded bloggers (and readers) bit by bit. Meanwhile, comments welcome.