Self finished reading it today. Afterwards, early evening, she sat and watched two brown birds fighting each other over the bird feeder.
The last 100 or so pages of Sister Carrie were excruciating, because it took such a long time for Hurstwood to die. First, the man became completely passive, child-like, wanting Carrie to cut down food intake so as to make it possible for them both to live off her salary as a member of a chorus line. Carrie, being a creature of some perspicacity (and also beauty: almost all her advantages are somehow derived from that), loses all respect for him, but what makes the last fourth of the book so painful is watching how passively Hurstwood takes her rejection. Thankfully, Carrie is not the brooding sort: after she makes the decision to leave him, she doesn’t bother herself with thoughts of his fate. (But, self couldn’t help wondering, what will happen when Carrie herself grows old?) So we just follow along, watching Hurstwood’s descent.
At the same time that self found the disintegration of Hurstwood’s personality truly appalling, she couldn’t look away. She had to read all the way to the bitter end.
Self tends to read the classics at odd moments in her life. For instance, soon after she’d started in the Stanford Creative Writing Program, she decided that she must read Lord Jim and Moby Dick, while everyone else was reading Raymond Carver or Flannery O’Connor. Then, while she was pregnant, she remembers reading (and loving) War and Peace and wanting to name son after Prince Andrei Bolkonski. Then she carted along to Stanford Hospital, where she delivered Sole Fruit of Her Loins, Bleak House. In retrospect, what woman in her right mind chooses to read Bleak House at such a moment? Just as well she had no visitors. She was able to read for two whole days. The nurses simply could not believe how self could read with such dedication. Later, while son was a mere infant, she remembers reading (and loving) Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. She gave a copy to son when he was 12, but though appropriately grateful, he declined to crack the cover. It sits now, in virginal pristine condition, on a shelf in son’s room.
And now to 2013:
In the cold of February this year, she tackled Graham Greene’s The Human Factor. Self has read Greene before, but this time, a slim novel that would usually take her a few days to get through ended up taking almost two weeks (Loved it)
Her next classic was Anna Karenina. Holy cow, that book took her a whole month to get through. Strangely, she did not find herself loathing Vronsky. Afterwards, she rented the Keira Knightley movie from Netflix. Awful. The most ludicrous movie she has ever seen. Worse even than The Lair of the White Worm, directed by Ken Russell. She can’t even begin to describe . . .
She was going to re-read War and Peace, but that would have taken half a year, and she was shortly to leave for Venice. Instead, she tackled Don Quijote, finishing just two days before leaving on her trip. That was the most incredible novel. At first, she didn’t think she’d like it, because everyone has decided (from the very beginning) that Don Quijote is mad. And she doesn’t like reading 900-page novels about people who’ve already been diagnosed. But things got interesting when Sancho Panza entered the mix. Then, the book became a work of pure pathos. And on almost every page, self found herself laughing out loud. Just ask The Man, he’ll tell you.
The next book on her reading list is The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. What a title! She loves it almost as much as she does the title of the Kafka story, “The Hunger Artist.” In the foreword to The Leopard, di Lampedusa grumbled that he couldn’t “do a Ulysses.” So he decided to set his sights on a more attainable goal: describing “twenty-four hours in the life of my great-grandfather, the day Garibaldi landed.”
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.