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Saturday, April 8, 2017

What’s on the Nightstand?

Even with cloud-white snowdrops and sunshiny winter aconite showing their beautiful cheery heads near the piles of last fall’s dead leaves, I find time for reading. After the yard work, of course--after all, as a friend remarked, the sun goes down each evening, giving the signal to pick up a book. Though it’s seldom I’m reading only one book at a time. More commonly, I have three, four, or five going at once, so the question is, which one to pick up when?

Among the recent selections, the one I finished first (because it was so hard to put down) was The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and much of the experience recounted in that book came back to me as David and I made our way through the HBO series “Treme.” I recommend both the book and the series (we just finished watching the first season on DVD), each with its joyful discoveries along with challenging tragedies.

Friday morning I came to the final, stirring page of A Tale of Two Cities, the Charles Dickens classic our reading circle chose for this month’s discussion. I found the novel’s characters underdeveloped, that is, not fully dimensional compared to today’s complex, nuanced fictional portraits, but perhaps it is fairer to call them romantic rather than realistic. But the descriptions! Dickens puts the reader right in the scene – toward the end of the book, in Chapter 13 of Book the Third, he does it directly and with tremendous impact.

I’m reading a 1993 anthology, Growing Up Native American, with contributions from twenty-two Native American writers. Most are nonfiction, and some from the distant past, but at least one piece so far has been fiction (a selection from Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich), and the variety and period of time covered allow for many different kinds of stories and personalities to emerge.

A volume that is slower going is Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlán Restudied, by Oscar Lewis. I am unclear on the distinction between anthropology and sociology, for starters. Why would a “complete, detailed picture and analysis of the culture and personality of” a people, detailing “their work, play, politics, quarrels, superstitions, economic life, marriage customs, male-female relationships, etc.” not be sociology? I guess I need to look that up somewhere. Okay, I did--and I still don’t see why the book I’m reading is anthropology, do you?

Then, dipping even further back into the academic archives, I found a book on economics by Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, first published in 1942. How’s this for a pithy truism? “Political criticisms cannot be met effectively by rational argument.” Meaning, I think, not that we should rush into craziness but that our appeals must touch people’s hearts if we are to move them at all.

And then an advance reading copy (ARC) arrives in the mail, another new novel that looks promising, so I’ll be starting that soon--doubtless before I finish the anthropology and economics tomes. Because after an hour of vigorous work in the yard, my brain and body are almost equally tired.

No, these were not blooming outdoors!


Trudy Carpenter said...

I so admire the breadth and depth of your reading choices. And your memory. Honestly, if I'm going to discuss with anyone, I can't read more than a few days in advance--and even then I need to highlight and outline. Yikes.
Thank you for sharing your perceptions. I always learn.

P. J. Grath said...

Well, Trudy, I did not mean to race through TALE OF TWO CITIES so far in advance of the discussion date. I just couldn't stop reading! Did not underline anything or dog-ear pages or even stick in Post-It notes, so we'll see how well my memory serves me over two weeks from now. I may be okay on general impressions and very, very weak on details and specific quotations. Or maybe you have inspired me to go back and seek out passages to support my claims. As for the economics and anthropology books, I am quite confident--that no one will be giving me a quiz on those!

Dawn said...

I don't think I'd have the patience to read Tale of Two Cities again. I read it in high school and can (amazingly) remember quite a bit about it. That's odd because I can't remember what I read last weekend most of the time. And I agree totally with the quote about political criticism. In crazy times no sense arguing even with rationality. I love your flower pretty, glad spring is arriving up there too. We've all had enough snow to last us awhile.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, one of my friends in the reading circle is reading TALE OF TWO CITIES for the fourth or fifth time. For me, it didn't take much patience: I found the story (or stories?) quite exciting and loved the author's descriptions and his way of pulling the reader right into an event as if it were happening right then. Other books we've read in our circle required much more patience--Dante, for instance. At least, that's my take. But everyone has different responses to the same book, which makes me wonder: Is a book ever the "same" for two different readers?!

Dawn said...

I think for sure every read by every individual is a different experience. There's too much within each book to react to and we all react in unique ways. Each of us connects to something in a great read, and odds are it's based on our own experiences, which means, at least to me, that though we might both like something, it's very likely for slightly or wildly different reasons.

P. J. Grath said...

So, Dawn, that would also be true of movies and television shows. I am so in love with the HBO series "Treme" (we're halfway through watching the second season now) that it's hard for me to believe it didn't go longer than three seasons and the third one very short. To me it's irresistible. But then, I was sent "over the moon" by the Paul Simon LP "Hearts and Bones," too, and that was nowhere near his best-selling album.