I‘ve been having some trouble with books lately.
(1) I accidentally bought the LARGE PRINT edition of Morley Callaghan’s “The Loved and the Lost.” (It is ironic that when you buy online from Chapters-Indigo, the “large print” designation is marked in fine print.) It’s not a disaster; after all, the words are all the same, and they’re all there even if they’re really big. But I’m embarrassed to ride the Metro with that thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with large print editions, but I’m obviously not hard of seeing. I don’t exactly know why, but I’d feel really self conscious and conspicuous reading that in front of all those people.
(2) I recently bought Lawrence Hill’s novel “The Book of Negroes,” which in the U.S. was renamed to “Someone Knows My Name” for the convenience of your white liberal guilt. It’s a hefty tome, and I’m not sure it will even fit in the back pocket of my satchel. I’m also reluctant to read this on the Metro because I’m worried some semi-literate thug — or worse, a semi-literate liberal (or an American!) — will take umbrage with that perfectly legitimate “n” word and will make a scene.
(3) I cannot find a book I didn’t know I had. The other day I happened upon a blog post that I made almost eight years ago in which I listed the unread books on my bookshelf. (I was compelled to update the post by striking through the ones I’ve since read.) Near the bottom of the list is this one: “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” by David Foster Wallace. As you know, Wallace died last September, which prompted me to write a blog post in which I explained that until recently I didn’t even know who he was. This despite the fact that he wrote my second-favorite magazine article of all time, which I first read in 1996 (the name of the article’s author meant nothing to me then). In the aftermath of Wallace’s death I read a lot about him and his writing, and I ended up ordering four of his books from Amazon.
Unfortunately, the one I was most looking forward to was out of stock so they canceled that part of the order. That book was “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.” Who knew that I’d already had it for at least eight years? Unfortunately, I cannot find it on my bookshelf. I must have given it away without reading it.
(4) I’ve always rejected the notion of “light summer reading.” Why lower your standards just because the sun is shining? On the other hand, the last two novels I’ve read have been grim and weighty. Richard Yates’ “Young Hearts Crying” has an unfortunate title and an even less fortunate cover illustration, but its prose is pure, sterling Yates, and its situations and events are classically Yatesian (although slightly less crushing than in “Revolutionary Road”).
I followed that up with “Everyman,” by Philip Roth, which is a quick read at about 250 compact pages, and I thought it would be typically Rothesque (a bit of grumbling interspersed with lots of old guys making it with much younger women). What’s not to like? As it turns out, “Everyman” is Roth’s meditation (through fiction) of aging, illness, and death. It starts with the protagonist’s funeral, then chronicles his life — with emphasis on the declining years, the quadruple bypasses, the dying off of friends and family, and the ever encroaching loneliness of the retired and rejected. Oh, the occasional filly rumples his sheets, but these encounters all end badly.
These novels, combined with the seemingly endless rain we’ve had over the past few weeks, has me crying out for some light summer reading. Unfortunately, “The Loved and the Lost” doesn’t qualify, despite the large print, and I don’t think a tale of 18th century slavery will exactly lift my spririts. Damn, if only I could find that David Foster Wallace book!