Self’s Reading Life (February 2013 Edition)

Self finished Graham Greene’s The Human Factor last night.

BTW, the words “the human factor” never occur at all in the book.  But they so aptly sum up the story.

Every word of this novel is absolutely necessary.  Not a bit of flab anywhere.  It is as hard and tight as a drum.

Before this, the best mystery self read was Morag Joss’s Half-Broken Things (which, strangely, Blackwells didn’t carry.  Self was so confused:  she kept telling the salespeople at Blackwells how much she loved Morag Joss, who is Scottish though she teaches in England).  She read Half-Broke Things several years ago, and never read a “genre” book that came close (though Ruth Rendell has been closing).

Gad, did Graham Greene ever nail it, though.  He nailed it!  Self forgot everything while she was reading the closing pages, and when she read the last sentence, it caught her heart in a vice.

Then, self began reading the next book on her shelf, which was The Black Count, by Tom Reiss, about the general who fathered the writer Alexandre Dumas, and who was the model for the Count of Monte Cristo.  Of course, it was so fascinating to read the opening pages and to realize that the author of such swashbuckling tales as The Three Musketeers was a mulatto (His father, a general who fought alongside Bonaparte, was the son of a French marquis and a slave.)  But she kept itching to put the book aside in favor of Anna Karenina (which self has never read —  no, never)

This evening, self took a quick peek at Anna Karenina (the Modern Library version).  She skipped the Intro and the Preface, as she doesn’t want anything to spoil her response to the work itself.  She went to Chapter 1 and read:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonsky household.  The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an affair with their former French governess, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

Tolstoy is such a card.  Though the events described above are supposedly tragic, there is such wry humor in the way he phrases “she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.”  As if, duty demanded no less of the wife, though it seems all for show.  For if no one else had noticed, the wife probably wouldn’t have been able to muster such a definitive break.

Reading this, self determines to return to The Black Count, for she wants to put off the pleasure of beginning Anna Karenina, for as long as possible.  Self is a devoted practitioner of the Art of Delayed Gratification.

Other classics self hopes to tackle in 2013:

  • War and Peace (She read this aaaages ago.  When she was expecting)
  • Don Quixote (She made several half-hearted attempts to begin this book while growing up in Manila.  Maybe now that three decades in America have cleared her head, maybe now she can actually finish it)
  • The Portrait of a Lady (She read this after she got to the States.  But would like to refresh her memory)

Self hardly reads novels anymore; last year, she read only 20, and most of them happened to be mysteries (except for Ian McEwan, Nicholson Baker, and F. Scott F).  But this year’s gotten off to a tremendous start, for The Human Factor positively slayed her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


  1. February 16, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    I have not read the first two books, but Anna Karenina, I read about 6-10 years ago –

    Very sad. Tolstoy supposed to have based it on a train accident that he witnessed.

    Wonderful descriptions, her lover with teeth like spades, Anna wearing the dress with the white lace collar. The way she goes through with it, even though she may have sensed that the man will not be with her for long.

    I am no good at delayed gratification as regards my reading.

    I have to read a book at once.


  2. February 17, 2013 at 6:15 am


    The lover in Anna Karenina had “teeth like spades”? Sorry, that doesn’t sound at all attractive!

    Anyway, my whole life is about Delayed Gratification. Me + Delayed Gratification = My Inflamed Literary Imaginings

    Try reading THE HUMAN FACTOR. In the beginning, I was poking fun at Greene’s way of constantly referring to the protagonist’s wife as black, like that should make us raise our eyebrows or what. But as I got more into the book, I realized that the marriage was the real subject of the novel, NOT the spy games. What a realization! The end — OMG, it ended and I was like, Nooooo!


  3. February 19, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Yes, 2 front teeth. 🙂

    The lover was depicted realistically, like the husband and Anna herself –

    as if Tolstoy were saying “She was obsessed with him, but I knew it would not turn out well.”

    It makes the reader feel like, “Anna be careful” but we cannot do anything about it – I thought it masterful.


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