Thursday, January 17, 2013

What I'm reading this week

I'm trying to make this a weekly thing. A feature, if you will. A way of bringing you, my blog readership, into the world I (occasionally) care about most: my reading life. Also a way of bringing my reading life out of the deep untalked-of basement where it currently resides.

It's a bit of a slow week to start off on: I have been desultorily reading a biography of Robespierre, the infamous career guillotiner of the French Revolution, and a paperback mystery, Thus Was Adonis Murdered, which is so deliciously snarky and clever that it took me five nights of bedtime reading to get through the first chapter, after which I sighed, dithered, and decided to save it for a time when I can really get a foothold in it. Oh, and also the Reference Grammar of the Cheyenne Language, which I have on loan from a university library and which I will have to send back in a body bag. It's a typewritten manuscript "bound" with two facing sets of staples, which unstapled themselves the other day when I was trying my honest best to understand what fourth person is (first, second, third person I get; fourth person is...I think...a person or object not connected in any way to the speaker or the listener. I can repeat this til I'm blue in the face but I will never get it.) (So: I am trying to learn Cheyenne, or learn about it. This endeavor and my ambivalence about it are the subject of another post.)

It's the kind of bedside reading pile that I heft onto myself during that glorious end-of-the-day reading period and then march through dutifully, one page of each, like I'm eating raw celery. I do rather enjoy this, but after a while I get weary of watery crunch.

So yesterday I sat down with the library website and requested five novels.

They're from the upcoming March Tournament of Books and unfortunately they were all on hold, which not only means I still don't have a good juicy chunk of reading material to look forward to all day, it also means I'm in on-hold limbo and can't properly start anything, because the minute I do I'm going to get a notice from the library that I have five books sitting on the hold shelf and they're all on hold to someone else besides, so I can't even renew.

(This just in: I checked my hold list, and I have five books waiting for me at the library. Sweeeeet!)

I'm also listening to Blue Nights as I drive back and forth to work. Blue Nights is by Joan Didion. Blue Nights is the memoir centered on the death of her daughter at age 39. Blue Nights is the book that is often said to be about the death of her daughter but is really about mortality, about aging, about what we do with what we've done in the world when we come to the end of everything and are still hanging on. It's also, disconcertingly, about celebrity, or, perhaps, Celebrities Joan Didion has Known. Names Joan Didion can drop.

Sorry; that was a piss-poor Joan Didion imitation (although well within the spirit of the book, which felt in places like a just passable Joan Didion imitation. In other places it was harrowingly beautiful.)

At first the celebrity stuff irritated me. Does she really think the lunch she packs for her kindergartener is so much better than every other lunch packed ever, just because she's famous and had a house just down the beach from Dick Wood? Okay, fine; she didn't say that; she just quoted her husband saying that, and he's entitled to think that, because he's married to her. Still. Irrrritating. The only two non-celebrities named in the book are relatives of hers. Everyone else, if they are anointed with a name, it is because they are Famous.

Later I decided it was just part of her style: celebrities are like brand names, which she also uses a lot. To set the scene? To make a point? And if to make a point, is a point about...existence? Or just that her crowd was a crowd that could afford to wear Coco Chanel suits?

Later still I wondered if it wasn't a sort of demonstration of how little it all means in the end: all of these famous, beautiful people, wearing expensive, beautiful clothes, doing beautiful, legendary things - and they all still get old and die and are forgotten. Except that an awful lot of them skip the getting old part, which seems to possibly be hinting at something more: all this precocity, all this devoted attention, all this sass and vim, and still they are unbearably unhappy.

Anyhow. It was very beautiful, it didn't make me cry very much, and I'm rather glad to be done with it.

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