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Reading for landscape May 23, 2009

Posted by Jenny in literature, memoir.
Tags: , , , , ,


I wrote the following post back in February, and I decided I didn’t like it, but I saved it as a draft.  I  took another look at it today, and I think  maybe it isn’t so bad.  The odd thing is, since experiencing the upheaval that I described March 24, I have been absolutely, utterly unable to read.  I know it will come back eventually.

Last month, after I finished reading R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, I was in a mood to keep reading about the moors of southwest England, so I turned to Thomas Hardy.  His fictionalized Wessex overlaps with Exmoor.  I read Mayor of Casterbridge and I’m nearly finished now with Return of the Native.  They both have transported me to the villages and the strange customs of people out on the wild, wind-blasted heath.

I’ve always loved books, but there have been certain times in my life when I have been especially intent in my reading.  I’m not counting college—I read a lot then,  but it was assigned, not freely chosen—but there was one time in my early 20s when I read all I could get my hands on (mainly European and South American authors), and another time when I was around 30  (I read Proust. Yep, Proust).  Then not again until my long spell of pneumonia in 2004, when I read nothing but military history  (it’s hard to explain).  Now I seem to be reading nineteenth-century English writers.

I’m not a literary sort of reader.  I wasn’t an English major in college, I don’t keep up with the gossip of the book world, I don’t enjoy reading literary criticism.  I’ve looked at literary blogs, and I’m not interested, and I’m pretty sure they’re not interested in me, either.  What it comes down to is that I read like a child, for the simple magical purpose of living in another world.  Like a child, I feel forlorn when I finish a book and I have to leave that world.

Many years ago I read Middlemarch by George Eliot and decided it might be the best novel I’d ever read.  Since it fits with the nineteenth-century English theme, I picked up my old copy of it the other day and thought that might be the next thing, to re-read it.  I skimmed through the first couple of chapters.  The idealistic Dorothea Brooke, spurning the attentions of a handsome young man to bury herself in a marriage to the hideous Casaubon!  The whole psychology of it—the characters—the turns of fate—done so perfectly!

But I won’t re-read it after all, I’ve decided.  Why not?  Because it has no landscape.  It takes place entirely indoors.  For whatever reason, right now, I can’t read a book that has no landscape.  I must, I absolutely must, have some sky over my head as I read.

"The Reader" by Fragonard

"The Reader" by Fragonard


1. DaffodilPlanter - May 26, 2009

Glad this made it to the silver screen so that I could see it!

How about a trip to Corfu with Gerald Durrell (My Family and Other Animals)?

2. Jenny - May 26, 2009

Gerald Durrell was a favorite of my mother’s, and I remember enjoying “A Zoo in my Luggage.” Great idea! Actually, I did get through one of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories the other night, and I might also try something more along those lines.

3. Jenny - May 1, 2014

Here I am, adding a comment five years later, prompted by the circumstance that I see people are still looking at this. I finally re-read “Middlemarch” this past winter, all of Trollope’s Palliser novels, and some Hardy. Here is my explanation: I have two veins of interest, landscape and history. Every now and then the two are combined, but not all that often. For instance, in “Middlemarch,” landscape is present in a pleasant way, but it stays as a scenic backdrop. For a deep understanding of landscape I have to read authors generally considered second-rate, for instance John Buchan. In other words, I am looking for people who ENGAGE the terrain rather than DESCRIBE it from a distance. Most of you won’t understand what I mean—sorry if I seem condescending. Buchan interests me so much that I made him a theme of my own recent novel, “The Twelve Streams of LeConte,” which will be published in about a month. I am currently re-reading “Anna Karenina.” It ties in with my longstanding interest in history, as I have been going along happily on my new blog “1870 to 1918” and am doing a series on the Russo-Japanese War.

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