Friday, April 25, 2014

For Pleasure: Winter, Spring 2014

Reading for pleasure during these months has mostly been re-reading.  One exception was A Man of Parts, David Lodge's novel about H.G. Wells.  Even this was in a sense re-reading since I had read many of his sources, including Wells' autobiography, over my past decade of interest in Wells and the future.  However I had tended to skip over the sexual relationships, which is Lodge's chief subject, although he's pretty good on Wells' ideas and literary accomplishments--on Wells as writer as well as lover.

Despite the mock- titillating cover art and naughty advert quote about Lodge being specialist in "intellectuals behaving badly in bed," it's a fair treatment that balances Wells' views with those of the women involved (all very willing to start) though the point of view is basically HG's.  I did appreciate that a novel not based on a real subject would probably have left a few of these relationships out because the parade did get tiring.  But as usual Lodge found ways to overcome the problems inherent in the subject and keep the book interesting if not always involving, though it often was that as well.  It did give me a more comprehensive view of Wells.  And as a description of Wells or this book,  the "behaving badly in bed" is tripe.

In volume my biggest sustained re-read was a collection of three early novels by William Eastlake.  I'd read them individually a long time ago, in college, shortly before Eastlake came to teach fiction writing for a term.  I was babysitting for a lit teacher who had the hardbacks, and I read one or two that night, and I believe I borrowed the third, but it could be that I read only one of them and parts of the others.  They were collected into one volume in the early 70s (3 by Eastlake) to capitalize on the movie version of his best known novel Castle Keep (set in World War II Europe) and the publication of his Vietnam novel, The Bamboo Bed.

The three novels are set in New Mexico, with different versions of the same family involved.  Eastlake later edited them to form a kind of cycle, published as Lyric of the Circle Heart.  I pulled that earlier paperback collection down from my shelf.  I admired Portrait of the Artist with 26 Horses and The Bronc People a lot, but thought the first novel, Go in Beauty, was a little too Hemingwayesque.

Eastlake was a unique voice in the 60s and 70s, and rereading these books he remains so.  I took his fiction course and corresponded with him for a few years afterwards.  (This photo--that's Eastlake in profile--is from an interview he gave at around the time I knew him.) Two things he said have always remained with me.  One was in an interview for our Knox College newspaper, and I can only paraphrase: "Writers are born, and shaped by rejection."  Shaped by rejection turned out to be absolutely true.

The other was a laconic line he uttered in class, so softly that I'm not sure how many at that long table of my fellow testosterone-inflamed big talkers heard it.  I happened to be sitting next to him so I did.  "All the great writers have one thing in common," he said. "They wrote their books."

I just finished re-reading William Irwin Thompson's 1989 book, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science. I have nearly all his books (including his novel but excluding poetry volumes) and reading them always prompts new thoughts, even when I can't completely follow.  His thought--his synthesis-- is still so far in advance of other writers I'm familiar with, it's a shock to see in this book contemporary references to the Soviet Union and South Africa during apartheid.  He has a web page which includes a most unusual and well-written blog of reflections.  This time I wonder: he has developed upon McLuhan's work and insights, among others.  But who is developing upon his?

Finally I need to mention re-reading Northrup Frye's The Educated Imagination.  This thin volume based on six radio talks is succinct and profound, beyond technical matters of literature to philosophy, psychology, etc. with application to the political world and society in general, especially at this point in history.  I hope to write something more on the content of this book elsewhere.  But here I note that I am grateful to have rediscovered this book, which now assumes a central place. 

Now I can't end without saying that my reading for pleasure has included bits and pieces of other books as well as indulgence in favorite genres, including re-reading a couple of Hardy Boys novels (one of them modern, the other from the original series) and Sherlock Holmes stories.

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