Monday, October 13, 2008

Long Overdue Book Post

I read every night before turning out the light, even if it is just a couple of pages or flipping through a magazine, which means I usually finish books. Not always, but most of the time.

When last I posted about books, I was just starting Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. It is a beautiful, sweeping novel about the nature and the cost of marriage, about the making of the American West. As I was beginning the book, I read several of the comments on Amazon, one of which struck me in particular: the commenter did not like the book, because she (or he) found the main character, Susan, unsympathetic and narcissistic. At one level, it is true, Susan is rather a snob (a trait upon which the narrator comments a few times) and sometimes very unlikeable. But that reading of Susan, of the novel, seems shallow. The characters are so completely human, and thus deeply flawed, it can be like looking in a mirror. I could go on and on.

Reading Stegner's very Western novel put me in mind of Willa Cather. I read her a lot when I was a teenager, and adored the books. Reading My Antonia again reminds me of why. Cather is something of an impressionistic writer, by which I mean although her stories take place over the course of time, they don't really have an overarching storyline. My Antonia is the narrator's memory of his childhood friend, Antonia, whose family are immigrants to Nebraska from Bohemia. Through Jim's memories, a picture of a particular place and time emerges. It is a lovely gem of a book. I also really love Death Comes for the Archbishop, by the way.

Now I am reading, in honor of his untimely death, David Foster Wallace's collection of essays, Consider the Lobster. I haven't read anything by DFW before, but Len has -- I had gotten him the book for Christmas, or his birthday, and many of the essays had been published in Harpers or the Atlantic to which Len was a longtime subscriber. Liberal elistest that he is. Wallace's writing is extremely intelligent, often funny, and very very dense (many footnotes, and footnotes of footnotes). He can seem offputting, but his writing is very rewarding.

I'm also re-reading Sarah Vowell's Partly Cloudy Patriot, because it seems appropriate for election season.

And a picture. Just because.



Helen said...

I keep meaning to read Willa Cather. I've just added My Antonia to my wishlist so that I'll be reminded next time I'm stumbling around Amazon late at night. Have you read any Louise Erdrich? Her books are different from each other, and I like some better than others, but this year I read The Master Butchers' Singing Club and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, and they both left me gasping.

Sharon said...

Oh man, Angle of Repose, which I just read for the third time this year, is still my absolute most favorite book. It is such a powerful, comprehensive and historic novel of the West that I can't imagine such a glib response. That reviewer who sat her comfortable sofa and wrote the review on her laptop - she's is the shallow one.