In an attempt to slow down in my reading of ATD, I have been trying to distract myself in some way. But why should I want to try to slow down at all? Well, it is entirely possible that I was not in my right mind when I made the decision, but just before the blessed holiday season, I came to the conclusion that I needed to slow down on my reading of that vast tome because, well… Because as I approached the eponymously named Part 4, I felt as if I were engaged in a car chase from some hit action show in the 1970s, in which the laws of physics are ignored with blithe condescension. I was catching air over gentle rises in the street; bullets fired from extremely close range either glanced harmlessly off the bumper or missed altogether. It was like a syndicated rerun flying dream without the commercial breaks; it was awesome.
But once I actually hit Part 4, the car began to disintegrate entirely. The hubcaps zinged off onto the sidewalk; the trunk popped open and ejected its contents all over the road; the glove compartment gaped open suddenly, spitting countless scraps of paper out into the cab to flutter about, while the outdated maps flapped open to paste themselves to the windshield; the doors flew off; the tires shredded themselves on nothing, and tire rims began scraping and throwing sparks in dangerous directions…
It was perhaps time to slow down.
I have since been distracting my magpie mind with any number of dazzling distractions, chief among them Bleak House, which I had not read before. In fact, apart from Great Expectations in school maybe twenty-three years ago, I had never read any Dickens before. I’ve been really impressed. All I’ve read by the way of prose for the last eighteen months has been Proust and Pynchon, with some interludes for The Ginger Man and the White Whale. And I have in fact been a relative stranger to fiction for many years. My relish for Dickens may be nothing much more than of the “Is this a regular cracker or is this a Ritz?" variety. Ne’ertheless, I am relishing it all the same.
Other shiny things? A small Penguin sampler of John Ruskin, another fella I’d read not one word of before, but he’s been taking the top of my head right off. The book itself is slim and ridiculously overpriced, and you’ve probably seen them near the checkout of your local indie bookstore (the megaplexes tend to bury them deep in some counterintuitive section, like self-help or cooking; how these tumorous megastores stay in business boggles my poor naïve mind…) The erstwhile typographer in me was slain at the sight of them and has shown great restraint in not succumbing to their sirensong more than twice.
Also, I have a stack of Dostoevsky standing by for later in the year (some, like Crumbs-n-Puns & The Bros Kay, will be rereads after several decades; others, like the Idiot, for the first time). David Copperfield, Tom Jones, and The Red and the Black. Oh, and a collection of Guy Davenport’s writings (So far, I group him in the same polymathic camp as Louis Zukofsky and Paul Metcalf). I’ve also been hearing a compelling buzz abt Richard Powers, so I picked up his first book, the one about the farmers; also McCarthy’s Suttree. I have this habit of reading the first page of a book in the store; if it stays with me for a few days, it goes on my list (it’s a very long list). Suttree has been on that list for a while.