I’ve been reading outside the lines lately. Trying new authors. Trying not to be so snobby when it comes to literature. For months I’ve had a collection of short stories sitting on my desk (along with about ten other fiction and non-fiction books) by Kurt Vonnegut. But it was only after Ben put a single story in front of me that I couldn’t resist reading the rest of the book. Look at the Birdie is a collection of unpublished short stories, collected over the years. In contrast Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House is a collection of the stuff that actually sold. And I’m not surprised that after reading both, I’m more drawn to former. There are certainly great stories in both, a few not so great stories too. It surprised me after all my years of reading that I had never come across his work before. And this is the rapturous delight of reading – when an author can open you into the world of his or her mind, experience, thoughts that you never had. TV can only rarely do it. Films are a bit better at it. But what is special about reading is that it is so personal. The characters exist in your head as you imagine them, prompted by a word here or there. Your interpretation is different because good authors don’t ever tell the whole story. You walk away with a sense of emptiness, of a new whole in the universe opened, that only another story can fill. And it continues. This was how I felt reading Vonnegut.
I suppose the only one benefit to being sick is that I actually can get some reading done. Having been holed up with my chronic bronchitus again for over a week I’ve had no choice but to finish off Murakami and move on to Plath (given that I don’t have a TV).
About one year ago, I impulsively bought “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, for no reason I can remember, but have shelved it as a result of Paris, new job, new boyfriend and too much work. But I’m halfway through, and I’m only sorry to know that there were no more books written after this one. It is an incredible book. It is so raw and honest, and feels so familiar. I liken it to the work of my favourite, J.D Salinger. I’m not sure if any literary scholar would do the same but their styles and genre of writing seem so similar to me.
I’ve already starting dog earing pages, where paragraphs have stunned me with their honest brilliance.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green-fig in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quiet make out.
I saw myself sitting at the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest…”
Being sick and reading are the two things that make me realize I’m not really doing what I want to do. And I might not always be able to do it. So I damn well better start.