I’ve been a fickle reader these past months, skipping around from book to book, only occasionally seeing one through. I did finish two by Kate Christensen, The Epicure’s Lament and In the Drink, as well as A Buyer’s Market (the second installment of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time) and the strictly confectionary Mergers and Acquisitions. I also swallowed a couple of Reginald Hill mysteries practically whole, but that’s just par for the course (until I run out of them, an eventuality I prefer not to contemplate). Otherwise, though, it’s been a few pages here, a chapter there, until a week or two ago, when I hit on just the thing that suits me just now. But more on that in a minute.
First, a word or two on In the Drink, Christensen’s first novel. It superficially resembles a certain kind of book wherein a hapless twenty-something, female, finds her hap. But Claudia, the protagonist of Christensen’s book, is less picturesquely hapless than your standard issue Bridget Jones type. Frequently drunk, sought by collection agents, and not above stealing from the dead, she’s actively self-destructive. She has a memorable foil in her employer, Jackie, whose socialite detective novels she ghostwrites for peanuts. And Christensen has an eye for a scene:
In the park, I sat on a wet bench. The river lay flat and sullen, a drenched, dark mineral gray-green. The banks of New Jersey hulked, beaten-down; the sky was several shades lighter than the water, but just as dense. The mastodonic roar of trucks along the West Side Highway was pierced by a bicycle bell on the path behind me, and the voices of children playing nearby on the paved walkway.
She’s especially good at capturing what things look like seen through a glaze of pain. Speaking of which, check out the unlikely loveliness of this description, from Henry Green, of an unpopular schoolboy’s fear of his classmates (I’m still dipping into and out of Green’s memoir Pack My Bag):
Until he went up to Cambridge I was sheltered and could always find sanctuary in [my brother’s] room which meant I had more time to read and that means literally, in the hunger for reading anything and everything which began about then, I had more time to give to what became a preoccupation. Also I was spared the terror I got to know afterwards when there was that thunder of feet down the corridor and one sat still as a rabbit wondering if they were coming for one. Later at Oxford, where I had rooms over cloisters paved in stone which echoed, they would tear screaming in by either of its entrances drunk like fiends about one in the morning and, unpopular as ever, I had again to face the fact they might be after me as five years previously they had been; different, desperate now, estranged.
As I wrote about this book before, it has an affecting urgency, apparently the result of Green’s conviction that World War II would be the end of him, and of his resulting desperation to get down in writing what life had felt like so far. Right now I’m in the middle of his chapter on discovering the opposite sex; on this fraught subject, especially, his candor and his commitment to capturing feeling and fleeting impressions are arresting.
But what I’m really reading at any given time, now that I am a commuter again, is what I’m reading on the train. And lately that’s not Green, which has been more of a living-room couch affair, to be picked up when I need a break from the burdens of work or television. Lately what I’m really reading is something most of you read as tykes, or perhaps had read to you: The Hobbit.
Nope, before this month I never read The Hobbit, or anything else by Tolkien. Now I’m about to finish it, and it’s held me rapt. More on that experience when I do finish it; in the meantime, what children’s classics did you first discover as an adult (Harry Potter doesn’t count), and how did it make you feel–old? young again? CAAF and Terry, consider yourselves asked, too.