Despite my apparent predilection for more hoary classics, big fat books, quirky metafiction, and overlooked international texts, I find great relief in traditional narratives with calm, easy narratives involving real people challenged by real experiences and real events .. even if real is assuredly fiction. I suspect that reading-for-pleasure is still a significant element in my psyche, periodically contending with my curiosity for more challenging forms of literature which admittedly may be fulfilling an academic rather than a personal need.
Here are three books I have recently read, each of which suggests a different approach to reading.
First, Dickens’s Nicholas Nickelby. Dickens represents a type of literature which both engages the brain while at the same time allowing a more easy approach to the text. You have to be on your toes to juggle all those characters and events, especially when the true patronage (or matronage) of a character is often obscured in the wrinkles of the plot. But Dickens generally writes big, fat, leisurely books that allow the reader to sip tea and ponder the flower garden without adversely interrupting the narrative. Dickens has a soft edge to his prose and other than an occasional bout of unfamiliar dialect or historical jargon, tends to keep the pages turning no matter how thick the book.
Thomas Carlisle, writing about the same time as Dickens, seems to have a different approach to literature. Of course The French Revolution is considered a history, but it has been written as it was a novel. I suppose we must give Carlisle credit for this more modern and more florid approach to history, but it is a pain to read. First, Carlisle’s style is apparently to wrap historical facts in disjointed figurative prose, often expressing the author’s conclusions. Consider this short passage:
Some universal Federation seems inevitable: the Where is given; clearly Paris: only the When, the How? These also productive Time will give; is already giving.
Add to this the necessary inclusion of many, many French people with unfamiliar French names, and periodic passages in the French language, and you, like me, may conclude that The French Revolution is worthy of your burn-this-book pile. It might have been significant and admired in the Nineteenth Century but I learned all I need to know about the French Revolution in Tenth grade and will wait for the movie.
The third book I have been reading is quite new: Fifty Words For Rain by Asha Lemmie. The narrative is linear; the prose is reasonably fresh; the story is relevant and engaging. There is occasional dialogue in Japanese but it is an English transliteration of the Japanese words, generally limited to common phrases, and easily assimilated. The story developed in the novel concerns personal emotions, cultural differences, and historical changes occurring in Japan after the war.
Reading this novel is both engaging and relaxing, primarily because it doesn’t purport to challenge my intellect or to expand my knowledge. Real people in real places experiencing real events and real feelings. A nice break from more academic concerns .. it’s just good, albeit book club, reading.