Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Better read than dead


Window cleaning by Pants


The first book by William Faulkner I ever read was Light in August. That was in about 1974. I loved it and I've read many others since. I'll always remember our tutor (for it was at university that I first read Faulkner), reading aloud the opening lines,

Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, 'I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.

She was an American, our tutor. The subject I was studying was American Literature. I don't recall her name. She'd be long dead now. She was old then. A classic blue-stocking, she'd lived in London in the 1930s and had been on the fringes of the Bloomsbury group. She corresponded with Quentin Bell and once let me read an aerogramme he'd sent. I don't remember anything about the contents but it was in fine fountain script. I remember that.

I remember her reading those opening lines from Light in August and especially the way she pronounced the word fur. She said 'frrrrrr' with a passion that makes me think she may have actually come from the South. She was a lovely, patient person. It may surprise you to learn that I did reasonably well in my study of literature, (earning a Distinction for my dissertation on Jack Kerouac), since I don't seem to be able to remember too much about anything. Then again, neither could Kerouac, so we got on 'like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars', if you know what I mean.

What I do remember about the opening sentence of Light in August is that Lena notices not 'a wagon' and 'a hill' but 'the wagon' and 'the hill' and that Faulkner's decision to place Lena in a definite rather than an indefinite landscape opened a literary window.

On the subject of windows, Faulkner said,

“Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.”

I started thinking about how I'm not reading with deep enough concentration lately after listening to an interview with Jane Smiley last week. She made the time to read 100 books in a few months and totally devoted herself to that pursuit. I thought, 'I could do that!'

I actually do think I'm overspent at the moment, trying to read but feeling I should be either writing or drawing instead (don't panic, Phil, I'm still working). So I have decided to allocate a much bigger chunk of time to reading with serious intent.

Ma Pants, (aged 80), is the sort of reader that Faulkner would have loved. I don't know if Ma Pants has read any Faulkner, but she probably has. She is well-read in classics and enjoys both contemporary literature and popular fiction. Frequently we read the same books. She and I read Tim Winton's Breath within days of each other when it first came out and both loved it. Last week I read it again and remembered both the primal appreciation and the secondary joy that I could discuss a book that is basically about surfing and auto-erotic asphyxiation with my mother.

This week Ma Pants and I both have both been reading Ian McEwan's Solar. I spoke to her yesterday and discovered we were at exactly the same point. We giggled over various comedic episodes. I asked her if she'd ever read any Magnus Mills. She hadn't. I made a mental note to get her The Restraint of Beasts for Christmas.

I finished Solar this morning. I had to, it was due back at the library. They have a special system. You can request that they buy a book - which I did, and they did. When it finally arrives, you get first dibs but it goes on high rotation. I'm not complaining. Books in this country cost as much as a case of potable wine and you can't borrow wine from the library.

I was going to write a review of Solar today but, as you see, I haven't. What I am going to do is spend more time reading than worrying about what I'm not writing or painting. (Don't panic Phil - I'm still reading/writing/drawing on ongoing projects, just parking everything else).

The review of Solar will come in a few days, after I've had time to really think about it, and maybe even talk to Ma Pants again. I'd really like to know what she thinks about the ending.

My priority for this week is to finalise the specification for the book and file storage units in my study. It's going to cost a lot of money to get these units made. I only mean 'a lot' by my low-income standards. Our wonderful furniture shop gets everything made locally at about the same price you'd pay for nasty imported stuff.

I really think that having my books in total disarray for the last two years has not done me any good at all. Happily, I can lie here and goodleoogle book references, as I admit I did for Light in August. If I'd had my books on shelves, it would have been easier to go to the source. I admit that I don't know exactly where my copy of Light in August is in this house at this time. I need the units. I'll get the units.

And I'll be reading, 'trash, classics, good and bad' as Faulkner suggests, but also the newest books, that I haven't been able to just order up as I used to do. I'll be haunting the Larrikin's End Library from now on with requests for books that cost as much as a case of wine...
I almost forgot, a Happy Bloomsday to all.