23 October 2006

Three things I love about every single day, #2

2. Books

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love to read. I am the classic bookworm, the girl who could read through an earthquake. When I leave the house, I always consider whether or not, given the route I am taking and the kind of place I am going, I can construe a possible scenario in which I will have a chance to read. If I can (as you may imagine, often the case), I bring a book. I was always the little girl with her nose buried in a book, no matter where we were (say, at a Phillies game at Vet Stadium).

I'm not terribly picky when it comes to reading material. I love the highbrow, but I'm also content with a newspaper or a magazine, or the back of my box of cereal. I will read mail-order catalogs cover to cover, and have been known to read entire books in a bookstore or library. Give me novels, short stories, travel books, poems, biography, even history (although history books are usually what M goes for and I'm happy to leave him the territory), and I am a happy camper.

As a sample of what I'm reading these days, here's a list of my book purchases over the last few weeks (most of them come from the Brussels Boekenfestijn, where a huge exposition hall is filled with rafts and rafts of books in Flemish and English):

On Beauty, a novel by Zadie Smith: I liked her Autograph Man, and this is even better. Questions of race and authenticity, art and aesthetics, marriage and family, the academic and the non-academic. Based on the structure of Howard's End.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a novel by Susanna Clarke: Fluffy and fun. Theory vs. practice of magic. Harry Potterish.

The Forging of a Rebel, an autobiographical Spanish Civil War trilogy by Arturo Barea: These three books are beautifully written (and translated--by Barea's wife), and give an incredible insider's view of the roots of the war and the experience of living through it. Gave me some invaluable ideas regarding my thesis, especially regarding propaganda and radio (Barea was a news censor and regular voice on the radio), and is a useful corrective to the utopian idea that the arrival of foreigners in Spain was always appreciated.

An Unexpected Light, an Afghanistan travel narrative by Jason Elliot: I was completely absorbed by this book. Elliot has a great sense of the long sweep of history in this crossroads country, and it helped me understand the background to what is happening there today. He makes sensible criticisms regarding Westerners' reporting of events in the region, and is always attentive to the beauty and warmth of the people, their culture(s), and the landscape. However, I think he employs the same tactics that he usefully critiques in Western charicatures of Islam by reducing Christianity to an absurd fundamentalism.

The Rare and the Beautiful, a biography of the Garman sisters, by Cressida Connolly: I'm halfway through this one, and although the writing is less than compelling, I'm hoping to glean a few details regarding Spain in the thirties as seen from the milieu of the Garmans, several of whom lived in Spain. One of the sisters was married to Roy Campbell, a South African poet who proved the exception rather than the rule among thirties intellectuals in his support for Fascism and Franco (his views can be found a tedious long poem that I wouldn't recommend to anyone).

Still in the "to read" pile (cause of much anticipatory glee):
Cloud Atlas, novellas by David Mitchell.
Ravelstein, a novel Saul Bellow.
The Poetess Counts to 100 and Bows Out, poems by Ana Enriqueta TerĂ¡n.
Spain: The Root and the Flower, a history of Spain by John A. Crow.
Enola Gay, poems by Mark Levine.

Most of these are bring-along or bedtime books (a little bit of reading before falling asleep) as they do not strictly have anything to do with the thesis. But sometimes I get so engrossed that I have to keep reading...

Still, because I love books, I count myself blessed to be doing what I do. I read books, and I teach students about books. What could be better? In order to write this dissertation that is hanging over my head like a cartoon anvil, I have to read many many books, and for that I am thankful. In order to translate books, I (duh) have to read them. See, isn't life good? I have to read. That is why books is #2 of what I love about every single day.

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