Thursday, December 02, 2004

Supplemental Book Club

So I did, in fact, make three trips to the book fair yesterday, and I got lots of lovely Christmas any random thing that seemed vaguely interesting as I held it in my hands. Not good. I'm not, sadly, the poster child for self-control.

There are many books that I refer to as "interesting," primarily because I can't say they're awful (for awful, try The Burning Times), but I can't say I really love them, either. There's a category of quality that I can "appreciate" without liking, and that's something else, but the book I'm finishing up now, Mariette in Ecstasy is more along the lines or "interesting." There's poetry here, in the minutiae of life at a convent, on a farm, in 1907. And the book is full of thoughtful contrasts--solemn prayer and penance beside chatter and gossip, the lust for holiness and resistance to miracles. If the end (which I'm fast closing in on) was more decisive, or if my hopes for the book had been a little lower, I might feel differently, because I really like this book. But the poetry and the ecstasy made me wish to be swept up in it, and I sadly was not.

Today we had a brief lunchtime supplemental book club, and realized that a month later is too late to discuss a book in-depth. The book was The Comedians by Graham Greene, and I think part of the problem is that it was such a complex book. The things I wanted to say at the original book club (which seemed inadequate at the time and led to the supplemental meeting of our rogue or "subversive" cell) were mostly questions; the book was like a night in the jungle, with a full and complex gloom. I enjoyed very much the layers I could perceive, but I felt the presence of a lot more profound material. I think that my inability to relate to life in an oppressive dictatorial regime might have locked me down, though that might just be in my mind.

And we talked about And Now You Can Go, by Vendela Vida (and don't you just want to say that name over and over again?). All three of us had read it, and all three of us found it unsatisfying to the point of wanting to talk about it. Not bad, you understand--we can talk about bad all we want, but that only needs quantifying. This needed qualifying--how, what kind, why did we dislike this book. Because the main character is numb and promiscuous? Not quite. Because the plot points don't properly support the character study? Mmm...part of it. Because we don't know this character at all, and even when we feel like we might be with her for a moment, it's lost when she does something meaningless, or feels something we can't relate to? Yeah, that's it.

Oh, and I'm not the only one who's not 100% sure about A Carnivore's Inquiry. That book is bizarre--upsetting but enjoyable, and really amazing at telling the story when you're not even looking. I can't call it great (as Katie says, if you can skim it it's not great), but I'm pretty sure it's good.

I will point out for the record, though, the tendency for books to enter my life in batches, entirely out of the blue. A Carnivore's Inquiry and And Now You Can Go: books about disaffected art history students who are moved by the painting The Raft of the Medea.

Thank you and good night.

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