Monday, March 21, 2005

Lukewarm on Books

For some time now, I haven’t been much interested in reading books. I find this surprising and a trifle disturbing, since not so very long ago I used to spend most of my spare time reading. I still read some nonfiction, but over the past few years I’ve gone off fiction almost completely. I’m not sure how this happened, but reading fiction started to feel to me like an exercise in idleness and a waste of time.

Maybe I’m just getting older and more aware of how precious time is or maybe I’m just in a phase of my life where I would rather be using another part of my brain. Or maybe I don’t want to use my brain at all. A definite possibility. Given the choice of sitting down with a book or knitting, hiking, hanging out with friends, or working in the garden, the book would probably lose most of the time.

Being sick, however, made me feel like reading again. Reading was about the only thing I had energy enough to do other than sleep. The very thought of sitting on the sofa, knitting needles a-clacking tuckered me out. Watching TV seemed too arduous a task. Go figure. Anyway, I happened to have a copy of An Obedient Father, a novel by Akhil Sharma out from the library. Didn’t I just say I was off fiction? Well, yes, but this book had several things to recommend it. First, David Sedaris had mentioned in an interview that he was absolutely in awe of this book and its author. I was intrigued since Sedaris is just not the kind of guy to be wholeheartedly positive about anything usually. Second, the novel is set in India, which is always a selling point for me.

I finished the book on Thursday. I won’t say that I found it to be as profound as David Sedaris evidently did, but it was good—anyway good enough to keep me reading it even though I felt like mushy canned peas. What I liked most about it was the insight it provided into the petty and not-so-petty government corruption in Delhi. I suppose that’s really only the backdrop against which the story is told, but that’s what I found most interesting.

I’m sure everyone is going to run out and buy the book after reading my compelling take on it. Sorry not to be a little more forthcoming about plot and characters, etc., but I’m still feeling apathetic and notably unambitious, so I don’t feel like writing a book report. I suck at that anyway.

When I finished the book I was still under the influence of the viral miasma, but I found myself feeling like I wanted to do some more reading. How novel (heh, heh)! But I could find nothing else to read. We have shelves of books, but unless I wanted to start reading through 32 volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica there was nothing I hadn’t already read. Somehow re-reading books did not appeal, even though as I perused the shelves I recalled with fondness just how much I had enjoyed many of those books.

I finally found some old literary magazines I hadn’t read completely and read snatches of them, all the while with the vague notion that what I was doing wasn’t very edifying. It’s strange, but if I’m going to spend time reading it has to be either pure mindless entertainment (like People magazine at the hair salon) or something that will in some way make me gain a better understanding of society and the wider world (like a nonfiction book about out-of-control consumerism)--nothing in between it would seem.

An Obedient Father was due back at the library yesterday, so I dropped it off and wandered through the stacks to see if I could find anything that would pique my interest. Even though I’m suffering from an extended bout of book aversion, I still always feel like I should have something available to read. Kind of a security blanket thing, maybe. It’s just too unsettling to find myself without anything to read.

After much listless shuffling through the stacks, here’s what I picked out:

The Urban Gardener by Elspeth Thompson (a collection of gardening columns from the Sunday Telegraph). The flyleaf promises there will be lively discussions of pitched battles against slugs in South London.

Real Time by Amit Chaudhuri (short stories by an Indian author I like).

Across the Lakes by Amal Chatterjee. I know nothing about this author or the book. I just picked it up because it was right next to the Chaudhuri book, and the author is Indian (Sri Lankan, actually, but the novel is set in Calcutta). I’m going to guess that I won’t get around to reading this.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. I grabbed this on the way out. I’ve liked short pieces by Mahfouz and since he’s a Nobel Prize winner, I figured he might have something worthwhile to say. Palace Walk is book one of his famous "Cairo Trilogy," and I have to admit that in my current comfoozled state, getting through all three novels sounds just about as daunting to me as climbing Mt. Everest.


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