Readings Thus Far in December 2007: Rankin, Tyler, Freedberg, Proust

Self began the month with Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, which took her far far away to a city that she has always dreamt of visiting: Edinburgh. The dialogue was pungent, the street names matched exactly with the streets self found in google maps, hooray! Self turned her reading of this book into a kind of game. Excellent.

(Self did not yet know about sister-in-law Ying’s leukemia. Ying herself did not know about her leukemia.)

Next, self moved on to Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years. Self had previously read only one book by Anne Tyler, a novel called Celestial Navigation. Self remembers picking it up from the Stanford Bookstore when she was still a grad student in Chinese Studies. And self remembers that the book was a kind of love affair between a very odd man, a recluse (if self remembers correctly) and a woman who rents rooms in his house. And even though that was the first and last time she read it, she can remember the book so clearly, as she can remember all the books she read when she was a graduate student: Lao She’s Rickshaw Boy, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Moby Dick, Lord Jim. Most of the books self read were by people long dead, and her tackling of Celestial Navigation was something of an experiment. When she finished the book, she found it odd. She never felt the slightest inclination to read it again, but it moved with her from apartment to apartment around Stanford, and then to her first apartment as a married woman, and now she is pretty sure it is in one of her bookshelves, here in Redwood City.

So, self did not have high hopes for the trio of Anne Tyler books she had borrowed from the library last month, but she began A Ladder of Years. Her curiosity was piqued by the female protagonist’s situation, and by the “voice”, if you will, and self soon lost herself in the joys of pure story. Then beloved sister-in-law Ying was diagnosed with leukemia, and two days later, while self was still reading Ladder of Years, cousin in Virginia broke the news. Self stayed up all that night, reading. She finished Ladder of Years in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, and began her next Anne Tyler novel, A Patchwork Planet. That one she finished in one day. Again in the wee hours of the morning, she began her final Anne Tyler novel, The Amateur Marriage. And something about that book threw her off: she was not able to disappear into its world, as she had with the two others. So she put that aside in favor of a book of scientific inquiry called The Eye of the Lynx, which she happened to be reading when son walked in the door, the day he drove up from San Luis Obispo.

While son and self were watching TV (hubby already asleep in the bedroom; it was 1:30 AM), son expressed some interest in the book. He was instant messaging someone on his laptop when he looked up and inquired what self was reading. She showed it to him. He then typed something on his laptop and said, “It’s a book about Galileo?” Yes, self told him. “How did you know?” “My friend read it,” son said. “She asked what you were reading now and I told her.”

@@##!!

Perhaps self is not too bad a mother, if son’s friends profess interest in her reading lists!

And self was able to get into this book, even though she realizes she never quoted from it, not even once. It was all about microscopes and telescopes and about a small group of scientists who gave themselves the herculean task of classifying the world, and who, in order to accomplish that goal, undertook to collect, in one place, a “paper museum,” an illustration of every single thing — plant, vegetable, or mineral — that existed in that world. How self wishes she had been able to quote even once from that book, but it is too late since self has already finished it and returned it to the library.

Now, apropos of memory and nostalgia, self is re-reading Swann’s Way. The new translation by Lydia Davis. And she comes across this passage in the Introduction:

. . . the better acquainted one becomes with this book, the more it yields. Given its richness and resilience, Proust’s work may be, and has been, enjoyed on every level and in every form — as quotation, as excerpt, as compendium, even as movie and comic book — but in the end it is best experienced, for most, in the way it was meant to be, in the full, slow reading and rereading of every word, in complete submission to Proust’s subtle psychological analyses, his precise portraits, his compassionate humor, his richly colored and lyrical landscapes, his extended digressions, his architectonic sentences, his symphonic structures, his perfect formal designs.

Oh, to lose oneself in Proust is a goal greatly to be desired.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

News of the World: Monday, 17 December 2007

A Movie

Self is back from watching Starting Out in the Evening. My God, what a great movie. Probably the best movie self has seen all year. Self must admit that after an hour she was checking her watch and wondering: How much more of this writerly angst can self watch? It turns out the story goes to some veeeery unexpected places. Kudos to Frank Langella as seventy-ish (but still magnetic) writer; Lili Taylor as complex and magnetic daughter/ dancer/ woman racing against biological clock; Lauren Ambrose as callow Ivy League grad student, so ready with flattery to insinuate herself into great man’s inner sanctum; and Adrian Lester as Lili Taylor’s magnetic and driven boyfriend. Each one of them, self feels, should be recognized with Academy Award nominations. Kudos to the screenwriter, kudos to the director, Andrew Wagner, for making such a great movie out of the Brian Morton novel.

Home Alone

Self gets home, and the boys are gone. Andrew is driving friend Nick to Emeryville, where Nick’s dad works. Self not too enamored of Nick the evangelist. He seems to expect to be served. Wants self to hand him the plate, that sort of thing. Is this how his (Christian) mom treats him? Wow, this is something new to self! Thank God house is empty when self gets back from the movie, and all she has to do is wash the dirty dishes the boys have left in the sink.

Next, the New York Times

Okey-dokey, now to continue reading yesterday’s New York Times. Self is on the Opinion page, and here is what she reads:

* The economy faces a vicious downward spiral of foreclosures, declining property values and mounting losses on mortgage-backed securities and and related financial assets.

Uh-oh. Self feels compelled to read on:

* The resettling of interest rates on more than 2 million subprime loans will prompt a large number of foreclosures, perhaps a million a year in both 2008 and 2009.

Even worse uh-oh. What are self and hubby to do? In the next year, that is?

* These huge waves of foreclosures will depress the price of residential real estate still further.

Eeeek! Self reads on:

* Plummeting real estate values and escalating foreclosures will cause further losses on mortgage-related securities and will further burden American consumers already dealing with higher energy prices and substantial debt.

Okey-dokey, self thinks that is quite enough of the New York Times today. Self looks to see who authored the article and finds that it is Laura Tyson, “a professor of business and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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