Thursday, June 19, 2008

In My Book

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the very worst people in the world for forgetting a book after I've read it. I love that this allows me to read my favorite books over and over, and still be wondering what's going to happen in the end. Okay, I'm not that bad, but I definitely forget enough of them that it's very easy and enjoyable to reread.

A while ago I started rereading Poland by James Michener. I think I read it once before we came to Poland and once after we got here. So this would be my third time. It gives a great history and a real feel for what the Polish people have been through over the centuries. I don't particularly love his style of writing, as it's quite plain, but he's really great at the difficult task of representing so much history, and so many wars and not overloading too much, but making you care while teaching you something.

Reading it this time has been a lot less enjoyable than my previous readings. I only read a little here and there and every time I come back to it I feel like "okay, so which character is this? Wait a minute which castle are they rebuilding?--Ugh*. Can't remember. I'll look back into it and read more tomorrow." But the next day, I still don't feel like getting back into it. His language doesn't draw me in, so once I've lost a bit of the story, I just want to drop the whole thing. Which is what I finally did today. I realized that I just want to sit down and enjoy a book. So I pulled out one of my very favorites: Villette by Charlotte Brontë.

I got comfortable and started in. It took about 3-5 seconds for me to remember how much I love reading. For me it's like a good book gives me something, in nearly every sentence. It so happens that I enjoy the story in this book, too, but there are some authors that just make me want to read and read because of their style of writing. They could be writing about anything (almost) or nothing (like the wonderful Jerome K. Jerome--pointless anecdote after pointless anecdote) and I just want to read and read and drink in those words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. They just make me feel like I've occupied my brain such a worthy and pleasurable way. I feel as I do after I've eaten an extraordinarily healthy dinner that tasted delicious. Perfectly satisfied in all ways.

Of course there are all sorts of other books that can make me want to read and read, but those would be the ones where I'm mostly interested in the story (and I don't read them often). Almost anything that was written after 1920 falls under this category. I know it's terribly shallow of me, but I find it hard to love the writing in a lot of newer novels. I don't believe I know what good writing even is these days. If a book is written in modern English, I often find myself just reading it for the story, and if it's a good story, I may feel like I ate a big brownie for dinner. Yum, that was good, but neither filling nor satisfying.

I suppose this is what comes of being stuck with Penguin Popular Classics (so cheap!) almost exclusively for 8 years. They're not all romantic novels, there's adventure, comedy, plays, suspense/detective, Gothic horror etc., but they are nearly all written in the Victorian period-or earlier (and therefore written in a lovelier English to my ears--or eyes) .

I would love to be in a book group and be forced to read all sorts of different books and then get to talk to a bunch of smart people who can help me see the brilliance of them. I wish I could enjoy reading non-fiction (apart from Dr. Spock and pregnancy related books). I wish I had free access to books outside my genre of choice in the form of a library that stocks more than 15 books in English located closer than two hours away. I wish I didn't feel so stuck like this and my mind could be opened a little.

Mostly, though, I want to settle back in and read some more Villette. I can't wait to find out what's going to happen to Lucy (again)!

*Note the spelling. See how progressive I am?


KC said...

When I was in college I remember feeling much the same way about modern literature and then I realized that my dad, a voracious reader who mainly cares about language and good writing, rarely reads anything but "new" fiction. I started reading what he was reading, and found lots of really good modern stuff. At the same time, I discovered that while I appreciate good writing, I am much more story driven than he is. I felt bad about this for awhile--like he would be disappointed in me or something--but then I realized that was silly, why should I be ashamed of my own opinions? Now I'm giving him books to read! Anyway, I'd be happy to recommend some good modern literature but this is already too long so just email me if you want!

jonesfamily said...

That's a great way to look at a bad memory! I've always thought, what's the point of reading books if I can't remember them? But I LOVE non-fiction because I mostly read self-help books that make mee feel better or that I could possibly be better if I tried. But I was just thinking how this summer I should read "fun" books as part of my break. maybe I'll try!

David Sibert said...

Wow, I wonder how it is with the Book of Mormon. Just kidding. So you basically live a Neverending Story life. Every time you read the same book it changes for you. That is so cool.I always enjoy reading your post. Your family is adorable.

Erin said...

Lisa, I started reading "Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte recently. I was having the opposite experience as what you describe. It is taking me forever to acclimate myself to the language--sentences that are a paragraph long. Lengthy descriptions and lots of obscure old phrases that I actually have to look at the footnotes at the end of the book to know what they mean. I hope I can get through this very healthy and satisfying dinner. Afterwards I will want a nice brownie for dessert, like maybe the second book of the "Twilight" series. Yes the prose may be uninspiring, but the story is fast paced and I don't have don't have to think to hard or remember a huge list of minor characters.

Susan said...

How much of this is vocabulary? I know I prefer my own speaking vocabulary post-classics reading over pre-classics reading. But there is such a sameness about the narrative. I like to have death narrate like in Book Thief or a dead girl like in Lovely Bones. Not that either of those are better than the classics. Hmmm. There's also all the modern history and culture you miss (like in Kite Runner.)

Well, we'll have to talk about this on skype, there's so much about it. But as for the forgetting thing, that must run in the family (at least we both got that gene!) I do find that writing up a review helps a little with solidifying the book and thoughts pertaining to it.

Erin said...

I finally finished "Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (while nursing mostly). It was good, but I prefer Jane Eyre. I am pretty sure I borrowed Anne's other book "Agnes Grey" from you. I remember liking it but can't remember the plot at all. I will have to try Vilette next.

Marlo said...

Daughters, you got that gene from me. No need to thank me.

Annette Lyon said...

Apparently I'm wandering all over your blog today . . .

Have to say, though, that while studying for my English degree, I preferred anything written pre-1900, and I focused on the Neo-classic, Romantic, and Victorian periods whenever I had the chance. I've found some modern writers I love, but for the most part, I'm a classics girl.

The years we were in Finland I didn't do much reading, either. Our library had a couple of shelves with English books for kids, but it wasn't much.

And here's an idea for your book access dilemma: Save up for an Amazon Kindle. I hear they're really easy on the eyes and while they're not like a real book, they're pretty darn good reading, and you can download tons of books from amazon (and for cheaper than buying the real thing).

Now I'd better go make breakfast for the kids. I guess they should eat.

Ola Zan said...

And I love reading Lisa. She's classic. To me you're an American writer living in Poland showing me what's Poland like and how America is different. It's pretty amazing.

charrette said...

I wandered over here from today's post, and just want to say that I've never read Villette (can hardly believe that, because I think it was on my reading list at Cambridge)but now you make me want to go check it out!

And I totally wish you could be in my book group -- 2 BYU English professors, musicians, all kinds of smart, interesting people. You'd love them. And they'd love you.

Tracie said...

Just found you from Stephanie's blog and am so excited! I'm your American neighbor across the border in Germany. I'm headed to Poland up near Berlin this coming week and I'm so excited! For a ward book group we were supposed to have read "Michaelangelo in Ravensbruck" and I fell in love with the Polish people. I'm a nerd and trying to get a grip on German history so I've been listening to "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" ( where I just got to the part about the invasion and occupation of Poland. What a neat people! Anyhow, I'm excited to have found you and thought I'd say hi!