My reading for 2014 seems to have fallen apart in the last few months, so I thought it was time to extract myself from the wreckage and look forward to 2015 instead. (It’s always good to set these plans; it lets me later look back and see how I didn’t even attempt to fulfill them). I can’t even find anything worthwhile to say about books at the moment: I’ve tried writing posts on Joyce’s Ulysses, on the pseudo-Shakespearean Double Falsehood, and on the avant-garde rantings of Tom McCarthy (his Satin Island, out next year, is sure to be my highlight – if, that is, like C, I can happen upon a proof copy discarded in a local charity shop; Lee Rourke, on Twitter, has already called it “staggeringly good. A codex for our times. Like all great Literature people with either love it or hate it”; – perhaps I should offer a prize for the first person to suggest which French book he’s borrowed his ideas from), but none of it felt pleasing, or perhaps even true; so I gave up.
So, for next year then, I will:
- Read more classic c19th realism (just to stick it to those avant-garde types): really, there’s lots of classics out there I’ve still never read
- Read a lot of Italian literature (I was planning a month this year, like the Spanish month when I put everything aside and only read Spanish books – and since Amateur Reader claims he’s going to be reading Italian literature next year, and since I have so many interesting Italian books, I thought I’d join in)
- Read more books in French (I always intend to, and always fail; – it’s just I’ve got so many interesting books now in French; the other week, for instance, I picked up a copy of João Guimarães Rosa’s Diadorim, which I don’t think I’m ever going to come by in English; – and I’m sure I don’t need to improve that much that it would be much more of an effort than English – frankly, even in English, I’m not that fussed about understanding every word)
- Read my obscurer books. There’s nothing worse than having an obscure book for years, and not reading it, and then finding some damned imprint has brought out a new version and everyone’s now read it and discovered it and you can’t say, yeah well, I read it years ago, it was ok I suppose.
- And, continuing a few projects: reading Faulkner, reading the complete works of Frederick Rolfe, reading Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage sequence, reading The Story of the Stone, reading all of Shakespeare (we’re getting close now) and plenty of other c17th / c18th playwrights – and whatever else takes my fancy.
Read McCarthy’s article in the LRB. It’s great stuff. He contends that fiction is not in fact “real” but just some stuff that people have made up and written down in words; that when we recount stories on paper, we don’t do it in precisely the same manner as the way our brain processes thought (though he doesn’t suggest why not); and that, when you look into it, some of those c19th realists were actually aware that they were making it up but still went on making it up anyway; – and they hadn’t even read Nietzsche, Deleuze, Blanchot, Derrida, Lyotard or Barthes; – almost as if it was something that just occurred to them while they were writing.
I’m reminded of the following excerpt of story-telling from Life of Brian, the final line of which often recurs in my head when I wonder about my own writing:
– Look, there was this man and he had two servants …
– What were they called?
– What were their names?
– I don’t know … and he gave them some talents …
– You don’t know!
– Well, it doesn’t matter.
– He doesn’t know what they were called!
– Oh, they were called Simon and Adrian! … Now …
– Oh, you said you didn’t know …
– It really doesn’t matter. The point is there were these two servants …
– He’s making it up as he goes along!