Wuthering Expectations will be on Christmas vacation for a while. All of next week, and then a little more. Before I forget, Merry Christmas!
A vacation shoulld allow me to salt away some reading for the long winter, to store some books for future blogging. I’m not sure it ever works that way. Last Christmas, and on the plane to and from Morocco, I checked off some solid Humiliations – The Mayor of Casterbridge, a handful of Ibsen plays, The Saga of the Volsungs – and revisited The Warden. I never wrote about any of them. So why did I bother? No, no - thank goodness – I’m not always reading for the dang blog.
I recently started in on Les Misérables, not, with its ludicrous bulk, the most bloggable of books, although please see how C. B. James wisely breaks it into pieces, which is presumably also how one reads it, a word or line at a time, not all at once. I’m less than a tenth of the way in, and there’s this scene – no, never mind. Into the freezer. It’ll still be good when I thaw it out in May.
Joseph Epstein, in “Joseph Epstein’s Lifetime Reading Plan” (from Once around the Block, 1987), advises a worried student to “have some time-tested and officially great book going at all times – Gibbon, perhaps, or Cervantes – alongside which you can read less thumpingly significant books.” Victor Hugo will fill that slot for the next four or six or eight months, unless I put it aside at some point, which would be wise, if unlikely. It’s amazing how the Big Books fall into place over time. Read one or two or three a year, and eventually one feels almost educated, or would, if it were not for all of the other books one has learned about along the way.
Here is Epstein's actual advice to the anxious young reader, nervous about the holes in his education: “to read no junky books, to haunt used-book stores, and to let one book lead him to another… there is no systematic way to go about it, no list, key to the kingdom of the educated.” The reader will have to decide for herself what “junky” means. I would add, whatever one is reading, try to read it well.
I read more systematically than Epstein. I have my lists, list after list, and sometimes follow them. The Scottish Reading Challenge was meant, in part, to free me from the lists – you decide what I’m reading – although it began with three lists! Try this, try that. Read widely, even when reading narrowly.
I’m reading a book right now that was suggested to me a day or two ago by someone about to launch her own Lifetime Reading Plan. Best of luck! The book, by the way, is Dear Darkness (2008) by youthful poet Kevin Young, and is sprinkled with poems about food – “Ode to Pork,” “Ode to Grits,” “Ode to Boudin”:
You are the chewing gum
of God. You are the reason
I know that skin
is only that, holds
more than it meets.
Is that “meat” pun excellent or execrable? A thing I like about this guy is he, like Joseph Epstein, is not afraid to go for the joke. Private to Lifetime Reader: why did you single out two poets who teach at Emory?
I am not reading Kevin Young to be well read, or to check him off of a list. Nor – what else am I reading – Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden (more fiction about artists) or John Crowley’s The Translator (fiction about Why Translation Matters). Hugo, yes, and Dickens’ puzzling Christmas Stories, yes, although they are fascinating in their oddity. Main entries or supplements to my ongoing Lifetime Reading Plan. Epstein again:
There is also a danger: once begun, there is no end. I myself would rather be well-read than dead, but I have a strong hunch about which will come first.