Monday, December 27, 2010

Mixed Media

In addition to the Mac, I got a tetralogy of books (but all in one volume): The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. (M, describing it to someone on the phone, called it a tetrapak!) When last I read this series I was at university. While I did study English Lit, I didn't read it as part of my course load. I was drawn to it, no doubt, having read something of a similar vintage (1950s masquerading as 1930s). It had been decades since I'd thought of it last, but a couple of weeks ago I had a riveting, boozy, intellectual Friday-night-dinner conversation about it with Steen. Really, for an hour, I felt like I was a member of the Algonquin Round Table.

It's not often that I use my EngLit-speak these days. Moreover, it's not often that I read an actual book. Which is odd mainly in that, for 30 plus years, I read a minimum of a book a week. I read everything - crap fiction, good fiction, change your life fiction, biographies, poetry, prose, short stories. Even, occasionally, non fiction (egad!). I was a book addict. Teachers admonished me for reading in class. You couldn't have a conversation with me wherein I wasn't throwing around some semiotic terminology, or comparing a friend's personal experience with that of one of my "characters". It really pissed some people off.

Fortunately for them, I found blogs and now I never read anything but (and the occasional print magazine).

Strangely, I do not miss books at all. One might argue that I've read enough of them to last a lifetime - thousands of books. I immersed myself in innumerable plots to live the lives of others, to avoid myself, to suffer the sufferings of those whose lives I would never otherwise encounter. It soothed my loneliness, my anxiety. Books filled me with hope and longing; they dragged me down with despair. But it was the despair of someone else.

Of course, no amount of books is enough for one lifetime...

I have an interesting quality - one which I don't see in many others, one which has served me well my whole life long. I go where my imagination takes me and I really do not overthink it. In all the years I read, I felt a chasm between myself and my creativity. The day I started writing (and in this case I'm referring to my blog) was the day I no longer felt the need to engross myself in the creative constructs of others. It was the day I found a voice to speak of my own life. And from that voice, my life developed.

Of course I still read constantly. Reading is a huge component of my profession. I also read more than 150 blogs a day - blogs that are intelligent, humourous, beautiful and artistic to observe. The democratization of self-expression thrills me. I do not feel that books surpass blogs. I feel they are part of the same creative continuum.

Which is why I'm pulling out some paper (like, a thousand pages?!) and getting with the written-word, old-style. Weird that this is the book to pull me back. I'm on the first novel - Justine, only about 50 pages in, and I'm reminded of the atmosphere - the heat and intensity of Egypt in the 1930s. So far, on this read, I'm amazed by the floridness of the text (it's practically purple, but smart!) and I'm on the lookout for cultural prejudice. One of the fascinating features of this text is that it doesn't sidebar sex. Passion isn't qualified by literary conventions - well, it is, of course, but they're more modern (dare I say, honest?) than the majority of fodder from that day and age. So far, we've had pre-marital sex, straight talk from the mistresses of wealthy Arabs, and child prostitution. And it's not wrapped up in a symbolic bow.

I'm curious to know - smartie-pants readers who, no doubt, have read this carefully and more recently than I have - what's the thing that jumps out at you? And let's say you haven't read it, what book have you read most recently that have changed your perspective on things? Do you read blogs instead of print? What's your story?


  1. I've read Justine but not in ages...I should take another look.

  2. I can't imagine reading that many blogs in a day. I have plenty of bookmarks and stuff in my Reader that doesn't get read. Probably because of school and working nights. We'll see if I read more now that I'll be on my internship and most of my nights will be free.

    Plus, I'd rather read a book. I'm not crazy about reading lots of text on a computer screen.

  3. As a working mum, I also find blogs are the easy, bite-sized way to get my reading fix these days. Although I do long to sink my teeth into a good novel now and then. I read, er, one book this year... but it was a biggie: Gone With the Wind. Can't believe I've never read it before. I enjoyed it more than I could have imagined. The characters were so much more three-dimensional than I expected.
    I also studied English literature at uni... it's a relief to hear that you too are finding it harder to get into a good book at the moment. I am sure there will be time later in my life to get back into the book habit. I think I need more to show for my leisure time at the moment, which is why sewing is so appealing. Yes, I had a little time to myself, and I made something! Evidence!

  4. I haven't read the Quartet, although I know a friend's daughter who headed off to Egypt last year on her own at 22 on the strength of its influence.

    As for blogs vs. books, I'm not finding it an either/or situation, although I read nowhere near as many blogs as you do. I don't think I've ever read fewer than 50 books a year, though, and I juggle that with maybe 30 blogs and a handful of monthly mags, the newspapers, etc., a reading junkie. There's something much different about the sustained time frame of a book, it seems to me -- both the writer's and the reader's. Blogs can have a compelling immediacy but they rarely represent the temporal engagement that a book does.
    Another issue is the lack of editing on-line -- not that budgets are allowing for much editing of print these days, but at least print models better spelling, grammar, etc. -- which matters to me as a prof who has to deal with so much of the current student pop's writing habits. . . .
    Have you read/heard about the Slow Reading movement? The Guardian had this to say about it earlier this past summer:

  5. Wendy: I'd love to know what you think of it now. IMO, it's totally anti-semitic, regrettably, in that way of so much old-fashioned literature...

    Raven: I always thought I wouldn't be able to get with text on a screen - I like paper, I want to hold the book. But I've really adjusted very well! And I do some skimming while I read. Remember, there's a heavy pictoral component to blog reading. Nonetheless, it goes to show that when you're a fast reader (and I am), you take the words wherever you find them.

    Jane: I urge you not to feel "bad" about your current pace and style of reading. For those of us who had to read 5 novels a week to get through our degrees, it can be a nasty shock when life (or other interests) intervenes. Just sewing can take all one's waking time and energy! To say nothing of parenting. Books should only be a (thought-provoking) joy - all reading should.

    F: So there you go! I knew that riveting atmosphere wasn't just in my head :-) I totally appreciate what you're saying about the frequent lack of editing online and about the temporal engagement provided by a real book, that cannot be reproduced in a blog. They are definitely different art forms. Who knows if blogs will stand the test of time the way that great novels have... I TOTALLY have to check out that link. I am not a slow reader - not philosophically, not actually. In fact, it's hard for me to slow down while doing anything - as you know. I have to learn more about this movement which will, no doubt, be beyond me :-) Thanks for such a well considered comment.

  6. I'm addicted to reading as well. I don't think I could even attempt to keep up with the sheer volume of blogs that you do though. I have my few blogs that I keep up with, and by the time I read them, my eyes hurt from looking at the computer screen. I am not too picky about the books I read, but I do insist that they have an interesting writing style and a semi-unique story--preferably a series with characters that become somewhat familiar. If it doesn't hold my attention, I'll generally slog through it, but I definitely won't be recommending the author to someone else. Your Justine book sounds interesting, maybe I'll check it out sometime.

  7. CGC: I love a good series! It's like a great TV show :-)