Monday, December 26, 2011

Playing Catch-up

I bought two issues of the New York Review of Books this year - from the magazine stall at Holland Village, the one on the corner near the MRT, where they sell a good deal cheaper than at Borders - and it's taken me until now to read them cover to cover. The younger me would have bought more and built up an impossible backlog, and ended up feeling guilty, so I've obviously learnt something over the years, though not very much all told. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both and hope to increase the number of issues I get to buy and read next year, but I'm not banking on doing so.

The problem is there's so much I'm keen to read in terms of actual books that reading articles feels like a bit of a cop out, a sort of undeserved holiday. And reading one book inevitably leads to just having to read something linked to it. Case in point: I'd no sooner put Dubliners down the other day than I just had to dive into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, reading the first chapter in a couple of hours, even though I originally had no intention of doing so. At the same time I was also caught up in a fast read of Hamlet, the latest Arden edition which is based solely on the second quarto. At least reading the new Arden was not exactly a reread as it is a new edition. (I've also been dipping into my older edition, the one edited by Harold Jenkins, which I've always thought of as the single best Arden edition. In light of the newer edition it now seems a bit dated, inevitably.)

Oh, and I've been reacquainting myself with Whitman's Song of Myself as one of my students is doing her Extended Essay on old Walt and it occurred to me that it's been a heck of a time since I opened my Collected Whitman - I'd forgotten that I'd relocated it to the shelves at Maison KL and was pleased to see it again when we got there in early December.

The wonderful and intimidating thing about having an interest in books is that there's never any shortage of things to be read and no chance at all that you'll ever actually catch up on your reading.


The Hierophant said...

Approve greatly of last paragraph. I imagine that difficulty is multiplied hundredfold when one is a writer seeking to create something new.

From the excellent introduction -- by Dr. Nicholas White, Cantab. -- to the Oxford World Classics edition of Huysmans's Against Nature: "One characteristic of the Decadent Movement ... is precisely an awareness of the unbearable weight of cultural models, and one effect of the density of reference in Against Nature is to highlight the unliveable pressure of such a heavily meditated existence."

Brian Connor said...

Yes, I'm sure a certain kind of writer feels this kind of cultural anxiety. But I think there's another kind that's less anxious in this regard, and almost makes sport of that unbearable weight, or, at least, there used to be. I'm trying to think of an example, and failing. Oh the pressure!