I’ve never been one, I guess, for reading books to the end if I’m not
enjoying them. In fact, the following claim by my alter-ego in my novel doesn’t strike me as being true in the least:
Yet despite my
veneration, for the first time in my life I’d little toleration for any book which, once started, failed to engage me. In the past I’d have
persevered no matter, but now my patience was tempered by the sheer volume of books I had to read. Those rejected I’d hide away in disgrace at the
bottom of my wardrobe.
No, I don’t think there really was a time when I persevered. I had a very precocious talent for not bothering
to continue: – even at the age of 15 or 16, I remember, I was able not to finish such works as Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Barnes’
Flaubert’s Parrot and Golding’s Rites of Passage (a book I’ve subsequently re-read twice and greatly enjoyed). I’ve just never
seen the point in the putting in the effort if I’m not enjoying myself; – although the claim that it is “the sheer volume” left of the unread perhaps
leads me to give up now quicker than ever before.
This year, though, so far, I’ve been pretty good. This might, I suppose, be connected to the
fact that I’m trying to read 100 books in a year, and it seems a waste of effort suddenly if I give up anything halfway through. Oh, there were a few
books at the beginning of the year, all of them too tedious to continue: Iain Sinclair’s White Chappell, Scarlet Traces; William Maxwell’s
So Long, See You Tomorrow; Per Petterson’s prize-winning Out Stealing Horses; – but since then I’ve been completing (or intending
to complete) pretty much everything.
The Ilya Ehrenberg I found hard-going, and
perhaps it was recalling the bitter struggle that was to finish that I find myself giving up on another (pretty similiar) book: Paul Nizan’s
Antoine Bloyé. I say similar: they are both in essence socialist diatribes, histories of capitalist exploitation instantiated into novels.
Perhaps the Nizan has more of a story, but if anything the Ehrenberg was more interestingly written. I just cannot see myself summoning the effort to
slog through the rest of this book: I don’t care that I’ve read 100 pages and it is 100 pages now wasted; the unread 150 are just too
On which subject (propaganda as fiction), there’s a nice quote I came across the other day in a book which I am greatly enjoying –
Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope (her account of her life with and death of her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam): Mandelstam
compares this kind of propagandist writing with mere “translation”, as opposed to a true creative act:
In his “Conversation about
Dante” M. [Osip Mandelstam] speaks of ‘translators of ready-made meaning’ to express his attitude towards translation and those who use poetic forms
as a medium of ideas.”
The Nizan was published in 1933, but is not part of my 1930s Reading Project (I started it far too long ago): –
I’m just hoping that I haven’t chosen too many other political books (there are 3 or 4 which are obviously so, but let’s hope they’re
entertaining). On which subject, I have begun, by the way: – but I’ve begun with HD’s Her, which I’m finding pretty dense and hard-