Sunday, August 22, 2010

Off the schnide

At the end of last year I suggested that 2010 would be the Year of Handke, and in the beginning, this held true as, consulting my records, 6 of the first 17 books I read this year were written by Peter Handke. Then I went through a meta-Beckett phase, where I read Beckett's letters, Knowlson's bio, and Christopher Ricks' wonderful Beckett's Dying Words. I expected to move on to more of Beckett himself (I still have yet to read more than a few phrases of any of his post- The Unnamable prose), mixing in more Handke along the way, possibly one or two of the Thomas Bernhard books I have remaining to read.

But then came a prolonged period of serious sleep deprivation. I couldn't read Handke. I couldn't read Beckett. I sure as hell couldn't read Bernhard. I couldn't read fiction. In truth, at times I was barely functioning. Despite this, though I slept a lot on my commute, my daily caffeine intake propped me up enough to allow me to make my way through plenty of non-fiction. But fiction was out. In brief moments of lucidity, I'd begin something: I read half of Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children before hitting a wall (in this case being annoyed was as much to blame as being tired). I read the opening two chapters of Nabokov's Bend Sinister, but I soon realized it wasn't happening; I wasn't up for the kinds of challenges even his reputedly lesser works offer. It's true that overall the year had been shaping up to be dominated by non-fiction anyway—I have several different strands I'm trying to follow in philosophy and history, not to mention my still ongoing reading of Capital (up to chapter 24 as of now, where I've been idling for a couple of months now). That's happened before. But these last few months, I just couldn't read fiction. Wasn't able to. I wasn't awake enough to read more than a page or two of anything formally interesting. And more conventional fiction simply seemed like an impertinence, an imposition. I couldn't face the introduction of characters, the establishment of setting or voice or style, the unfolding of story, any of it. Why are you telling me this? Why does your book exist? Who the fuck cares?

Finally, I got some consistent sleep, had a relaxing vacation, began to read some fiction. Perhaps unexpectedly, it was the stories of Alice Munro that got me off the schnide. Munro doesn't quite have a reputation as an experimental writer, but she doesn't follow obvious formulas either. Anyway, I read two of her collections and liked the stories well enough, though I don't really have much to say about them. Then, in recent weeks, I've read two novels by American writers, 30 years apart, who do have such reputations as experimental writers: Laird Hunt's The Exquisite and Coleman Dowell's Too Much Flesh and Jabez. Both had been gathering dust on my bookshelves for some time, so it was good to finally read them. I may have something more to say about each novel in a future post or two (as usual, no guarantees), but for now let me just say that I enjoyed reading them. They both sufficiently call into question the act of narrative, as implicated in empire (not that they put it in those terms), that I feel they justified their existence. Which is more than can be said for most books.


Rebecca H. said...

I hit a wall with the Stead book when I tried to read it a year or so ago. I got about halfway through as well. It felt too much like a slog. It's interesting that Munro got you back on track with reading. That makes me want to pick her up again.

Anonymous said...

Happy to hear you've been able to shut off the brain noise (and other distractions) and find some sleep. I've suffered deep bouts of insomnia for years - they hurt.

I'm looking very forward to the Laird (though I think I'd be better served reading something else first after just finishing Remainder). I've got Dowell's *One of the Children is Crying* on my desk, but three attempts are done and I think I'll wait for the one's I've ILLed.

Ethan said...

I wish I had enough of a brain these days to say more than "huh, interesting."

I read The Exquisite after I saw you post a quote from it. I found a good deal of it kind of irritatingly precious, but enough was huh, interesting in it to mostly make up for that.

Richard said...

Ethan, I can definitely see what might be irritatingly precious about the book. In fact, though I more or less enjoyed it, I'm not sure I would rate it highly. I'm hoping to expand on my thoughts in an actual post on it, but we'll see.