Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Book Fiend


It may be that I'm looking forward to grad school with a certain dread of having to read textbooks rather than novels and creative non-fiction again. Or it may simply be my autumnal nesting instinct getting me into a ravenous frenzy of book consumption. Whichever it is, if either, of these reasons, I am consuming books at a fast clip.

My most recent meal was of the book Everyman by Philip Roth. I found this little gem on the "Former Bestsellers" table at Borders and snagged it for $5.99. (Sorry, Mr. Roth, I realize this cuts deeply into your royalties, but I couldn't help myself. I love a bargain!) It's a non-descript book, small. Its cover is black with white, block lettering, although some graphic designer somewhere got paid a little sum for that design. It represents the starkness and simplicity of the story. Like the title, the book reflects a universal theme of a life lived start to finish with one interesting twist--the protagonist suffers a run of bad luck as to his health.

At first, I though, "Oh, I'm not sure about this book. Do I really want to do this to myself?" After all, my own health has been maddeningly frail the last two years. Why would I want to read about someone else's suffering in hospitals and behind closed doors where he eventually drives away his only brother, one who has hale and hearty health and who has done nothing but love him, out of jealousy and bitter envy? Why would I want to read about the ex-wife whose migraines were so bad that she sometimes required a house call? Why would I want to read about Millicent Kramer, a student in the man's art class who had to sometimes lie down on the floor because the spinal pain got so bad that she could do nothing else?

Because, my friends, this book is a prize. The prose is so fluid and beautiful. An example:

"...had he run to painting to deliver himself from the knowledge that you are born to live and you die instead?"

Or this one, in which he is staring out into the sea from the beach on which he grew up:

"Or was the best of old age just that--the longing for the best of boyhood, for the tubular sprout that was then his body and that rode the waves from way out where they began to build, rode them with his arms pointed like an arrowhead and the skinny rest of him following behind like the arrow's shaft, rode them all the way in to where his rib cage scraped against the tiny sharp pebbles and jagged clamshells and pulverized seashells at th edge of the shore and he hustled to his feet and hurriedly turned and went lurching through the low surf until it was knee high and deep enough to plunge in and begin swimming madly out to the rising breakers--into the advancing, green Atlantic, rolling unstoppably toward him like the obstinate fact of the future--and, if he was lucky, make it there in time to catch the next big wave and then the next and the next and the next until from the low slant of inland sunlight glittering across the water he knew it was time to go."

It is a definitely un-Hemingway-esque sentence but notice the imagery, the flow, the taste of the sea in your mouth as you read it. Mr. Roth, I am humbled. I'm not worthy!

The protagonist is never named, allowing him to be - truly - Everyman. Insert name here. He suffers one health issue after another, puzzling over why him and not his brother, why must he continue to have crises though he has been a swimmer and a runner and a successful man? How is it that he was brought to the brink so many times?

You'll ask yourself these things and more as you read this book.

Other reads of late:
  • The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory
  • A Member of the Family - Cesar Millan
  • The Lucky One - Nicholas Sparks
  • The Purpose-Driven Life - Rick Warren (still reading a chapter a day, as it specifies)
I may be picking up The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon. I've had the book on the shelf since it came out (along with the next one, A Breath of Snow and Ashes) but it has been collecting dust. You have to be in the right frame of mind to read a big, hefty Gabaldon book, but I figure I'd better read these two before starting school in January! Who knows when I'll have time again. The next 2-3 years look like a long list of textbooks and internships. Somehow I know I will still squeeze in novels; I can't help myself. But it will be stolen moments rather than marathon reads then. No less sweet.

Peace - D

(If you are a voracious reader like me, check out Book Swappers to borrow books instead of pouring the money -- you're trying madly to conserve -- into your local bookstore!)

10 comments:

Lavinia said...

So many books, so little time! Isn't it great to discover an unexpectedly fantastic book?

By the way, the most adorable baby bulldog named Baloo featured on daily puppy today. dailypuppy.com or:

http://www.dailypuppy.com/puppies/Baloo-the-Bulldog_2008-10-21

Akelamalu said...

I have so many books piled up to read. I'm hoping to get started on them soon.

Moannie said...

I had to read so many books in the eight years it took me to get my degree...worthy books, great tomes of LITERATURE which I enjoyed immensely, but dissecting them, discussing them, understanding them finally became a chore. I just wanted to read for pleasure once again. I want a good story, well written, that I can imagine myself inside.
Or an anthology of poems, John Donne please, and Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Wendy Cope and Christina Rossetti.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

I love reading, too, but I just don't have the time any longer. I typically get about 10 minutes of reading in each evening and I have a huge stack of books to get through. Ugh. Right now I'm waffling between a biography about Lady Jane Rochford (Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law) and Paul of Dune, a sci-fi continuation of the Dune series.

tysdaddy said...

Thanks for the book review. I thought about picking this one up once, and now I may have to track it down.

I just finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and have The Story of Edgar Sawtelle waiting in the wings. But first, I must write a paper and take a test . . .

Fun . . .

RiverPoet said...

Lavinia - The link you sent me was GREAT! Baloo is definitely a cutie-pie!

Akela - I know...I've always got a surplus, but somehow that is one stack that doesn't stress me out! :-)

Moannie - You like that heavy, dark stuff, eh? Donne is about as deep as it gets. Did you ever see the movie "Wit"? with Emma Thompson? She plays a college professor (of literature) and a Donne scholar who is dying of cancer. It was a wonderful play and an even better film, thanks for Thompson. That's my recommendation for you today!

CMGD - I feel for you, girl. I was in that bookless stupor for a long time with the kids, though when Sean was little, he was such a good sleeper that I managed to read the entire Dragonlance series in my afternoons. Fond memories.

Tysdaddy/Brian - Oh yes, I highly recommend this. I loved Dog in the Night-Time. What an interesting look at the autistic mind! Edgar Sawtelle will be on my Christmas list, I think.

Peace - D

Daryl said...

Doris, thanks for the Book Swapper plug ...

I am reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle ... if you like animals and like an involving story this is the book for you ....

:-Daryl

Ruth D~ said...

Great review. You've inspired me to get the book, and to check into the others. Get in touch with me if you're interested in reviewing for the internet Review of Books.

San said...

The Roth sounds like a great read.

I've just about finished Dave Eggers's "You Shall Know Our Velocity!" It's my son's copy and it is fantastic--such an original and very contemporary-feeling voice! My son tells me he wants to re-read it when I return it to him.

RiverPoet said...

Daryl - You know, I want to read that one, but there's this strange woman working at my local Borders who has stopped me TWICE to recommend that book (she works there). I get the sense she's flirting with me, and she's rather pushy. So I won't buy it there. Don't want to encouarage her.

Ruth - Thanks! I've sent you an email.

San - Hmm, I'll have to check that out! Any book that earns a second read in today's busy world has to be a good one!

Peace - D