Well the year’s end is looming and I’m a little less progressed in this project than anticipated.
Less progressed?! Who am I kidding? I didn’t really start, did I?
Well not on that list, no. I think I read 18 pages of book number 100. There’s no pile of books in the corner, smugly stacked as a shrine to my accomplishment. There are no insightful blog posts mapping the journey from 100 to 1.
But I did read. I am reading.
Right now it is The Emperor’s Children by the American author Claire Messud. It was written in 2006 and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Before heading to NY last month I put the call out for recommendations for holiday reading. I have some specific criteria around holiday books. I don’t want to think too much – I need to be able to read it for hours on end (hello flight from Sydney to NY) without my brain hurting from trying to keep up. But it does need to have some level of complexity and a well crafted engaging story. And quality characters – preferably with at least one I really like. It must be well written – no clumsy turns of phrase or mixed metaphors please. All this can be a big call.
My sister-in-law came to the party and pulled The Emperor’s Children off her shelf. She gets bonus points here as I do love to read a book set in the place I’m going (or just been). I started the book on a train to Boston, and was passing through Stockbridge just as one of the key characters hid away in that very town. Spooky.
I’m a little over half way through the book (hey NY doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading!) and it really does tick all my boxes for holiday book picks. It’s set in Manhattan in the late 90s / early noughties and up past September 11. (I’m still pre-9/11). There are lots of reasons I like it. It’s beautifully written. Its satire and social commentary are well crafted and on the money. There are aspects (some not so flattering) of the characters I see in myself and in others around me. The social commentary is transferable enough to be meaningful (And amusing. And uncomfortable) to me, who grew up on the other side of the world, but perhaps in circumstances not miles away from some of the characters.
So where I’m up to, the landscape is shifting. We’re hurtling towards 9/11. And I’m keen to see how this plays out in the characters’ worlds.
So I did do more than twiddle my thumbs and set unattainable goals this year, and maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about my other reading detour and where it took me.
an excuse, I mean. For not progressing with my project.
But its a good one.
I’m planning my next trip to my favourite city in the world.
Start spreading the news...
So I’m still on the opening pages of The Magnificent Ambersons.
But wait! I have been reading…one of my favourite books hit its 50th anniversary, so I decided it was time to replace the copy that disappeared some years ago.
And I couldn’t just put it on the shelf without re-reading it!
And I’m still intrigued by the rumour that Harper Lee’s good friend Truman Capote was, in fact, responsible for the writing (or heavy editing) of the book.
In an interview some years ago, Dr Wayne Flynt speaks to diespel the rumour. I particularly like his point that the rumour was in part perpetuated with our current perception of celebrity in mind.
The books have arrived and I have jumped straight in – I’ve read a whole page of The Magnificent Ambersons!
Now you may not believe me, but that was the plan – I haven’t had any time to read, but I wanted just a taster of the writing style. It’s written in 1918 so potentially the use of language might have been a bit of a hard slog. But if the opening paragraphs are any indication, it’s going to be an enjoyable read – stylistically anyway!
What I have been thinking more about, are the “rules” of the project.
I’m someone who has to design and meet very specific outcomes in my everyday work. Where the end point is the starting point and what comes between is the design to deliver you to those outcomes (stay with me!) So my instinct is to approach this project in the same way. But I kept thinking about it, and I don’t think this project is about the end point. Or more specifically a planned endpoint. Sure, it’ll be good to tick off 100 books, to be able to comment critically on them, to have a blog full of insightful thoughts (?!)…but I actually think (and excuse me as I fall into reality tv talk), this IS about the journey.
It’s about the ideas or plans or chance encounters that may fall out of picking up a book I would never otherwise have come across.
It’s about the thoughts and conversations it may trigger, and about tangents I might go off on.
And for that reason, I am not starting with any rules or goals. If I only ever read 5 of these books, but within those 5 books I come across an author, a thought, a seed of inspiration that makes some sort of impact on my life, my views, my knowledge, my aspirations – then I think that makes the project a success.
And of course I reserve the right to change my mind completely and impose any rules my heart may desire!
I’m trying not to get too excited here, but it seems that almost 2 months after I kicked off this project, the arrival of the first 3 books is imminent. Apparently all that good money I’m paying for a mail re-direction does not actually guarantee my mail will be re-directed. Who knew?! So my books bounced back to the bookshop and are finally, allegedly, heading north as I write this.
Sitting by the letterbox, I’ve had some time to think. I have a few questions. Not so many answers. But I suspect I might answer a few of them along the way, as I make my way from 100 to 1.
Things I’ve been pondering:
1. Should I put a timeframe around this project? Will that keep me on track or make me willfully disobedient? (I don’t much like rules and deadlines, even when they are self-imposed)
2. Are there any rules? Should there be?
3. Do I have to persevere with a book if I hate it?
4. Is the degree of impact of a book subject to reading it within a social or historical context? Can a book written 60 years ago have the same impact on me reading it in a different time and place?
5. Is there a common thread in books that stand the test of time?
What do you think?
I’m off to polish my reading glasses and plump up the sofa in anticipation.
So there I was, all those weeks ago, brimming with excitement about the project that lay before me. And here I am now, still sitting by the mailbox, STILL waiting for those books to arrive. (The postman just shakes his head sadly at me each day).
Surely, you say, your mail re-direction from your old address would simply have delayed things by a few days? You’d think so wouldn’t you? But no, the utterly lazy man who is responsible for delivering parcels to my old ‘hood probably threw them under a bush – I kid you not.
And the online book provider (who shall remain nameless) where I purchased these
hard-to-come-by literary masterpieces has an odd system which meant that my updated address didn’t register against my order. So after the first no-show they re-sent them. To my old address. Again. So the second lot are probably sitting under another bush. Or under a seat at a tram stop.
Ignoring the fact that the universe was possibly sending me signs not to pursue my challenge, I in the meantime picked up Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I had originally spotted this book in New York last year, but for some reason put it back on the shelf (probably guilt at the $300 I had already spent that day on gorgeous boots). And then it kept popping up in my life since then – stumbling across newspaper articles about the author, his arrival in town for the Sydney Writers Festival – so I went out and bought it. And I’m loving it. Beautifully written and totally engrossing.
If only those top 100 books I ordered had pursued me as relentlessly as Brooklyn…
are all en route from the US of A in 6-11 days. Well actually, it may be slightly longer as they’ll be going via my old address which I neglected to update. Sigh.