Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Ones That Got Away

*cue melancholy violin solo*
On those dark, winter evenings, when I sit alone in the twilight, memories come flooding back of books I once held fondly in my hand: books I intended to read, but which slipped from my grasp before I had the chance to waltz my fingers through their pages. Fate was against me and these books, the ones that got away.

What, that never happened to you? Well what if it were even worse, and these books were literal baggage, being carted with you from attic to basement, state to state, country to country, every time you moved? These words on the screen cannot express the the nightmare of my experience when I tell you that I have been haunted by Joseph Conrad. For thirteen years.

Yes, it's true. Like a carefree lass in a cautionary tale, I thoughtlessly picked up a paperback of Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer at a book sale, planning to read it "sometime soon", little knowing how this devil's deal would alter my future...  You think I'm being melodramatic? I've been staring at a bad 1960's cover illustration of Charles Marlow FOR THIRTEEN YEARS. It's bad, people. Very bad. And it ends now.

March's theme is modern short stories and novellas. This is a mixed bag of books that need to leave my home (did I mention that I'm downsizing my books? Fully 25% of them are on their way to new homes. Except for Heart of Darkness, that one can rot in book hell. Which would be what, an accordion store? A hot tub showroom? Spring break in Miami Beach?)

Anyway. I've been at this for 8 days now, with a 3 day digression to read The Hunger Games series, because I wasn't disturbed enough already. Of course, I didn't start with Heart of Darkness. I'm working up to it with a bunch of other short stories/novellas that I don't have room for either. I'm going to read them all, and the best volume wins a spot on my shelf. The others are off to the accordion store, just in time for Polka Demo Tuesday.  So I guess this is a Hunger Games for books, except they don't even have the decency to kill each other off. I always have to do everything myself around here.

So far I've read the following:

-Jonathan Livingston Seagull: It was alright. Not mindblowing for me, like the cover quotes would have you believe, but if you haven't thought about human potential before, then it could be revelatory.

-"The Kreutzer Sonata" and "The Death of Ivan Ilych" by Tolstoy. I preferred "The Kreutzer Sonata", but I probably would have appreciated them both more if a) I had waited until I was in the mood to read Russian lit, but alas, time waits for no book and b) if my copy didn't smell so strongly like the basement of a thrift store. Next time I'll remember to pick up a linen copy hand-lettered by Milla Jovovich. (I know, she's Ukrainian.)

-"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving. I actually liked these a lot more than I thought I would, especially the last two. They had a dreamlike quality to them, and they were definitely early American, which stood out strongly in contrast to all the Brothers Grimm material I read last month.

-"The Bottle Imp" by Robert Louis Stevenson. I liked it. A little bit suspenseful, definite folk-tale feel, surprise ending!

Still on tap for this month are:

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", by Robert Louis Stevenson
Tortilla Flats, a novella by John Steinbeck
a volume of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe
and of course, my nemesis, 3 ounces of yellowed paperback:

Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer 
by Joseph Conrad

Okay, maybe a little melodramatic.

Wait, that was February?

Yes, I am still alive, but fresh out of snappy intros. For some reason, all that comes to mind is, "Once upon a time..."

I finished volume 1 of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales. That was 100 stories: some well-known, some weird, some sinister, some trippy, some repetitive. I also finished the 2 volumes of fairy tale criticism I was working on, Jack Zipes' Fairy Tale as Myth and Myth as Fairy Tale and Maria von Franz's The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. The former author approached the genre from a Marxist/feminist socio-historical perspective, while the latter was working from the discipline of psychology.  I swear, people who buy trippy herbs are wasting their money, because a similar psychedelic effect can be had by reading works of jarringly different perspectives one after another. Or, better yet, alternating chapters between the books late at night (lava lamp optional).

Besides these books, which fit my theme of the month, I also read a couple others that had been languishing on my list forever:
Winter: A spiritual autobiography (a collection of winter-themed poetry, essays and short stories. meh)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: text and criticism (I read the text in December. I read the criticism in February. Basically a collection of reviews and critical essays. Pretty interesting, and offered a variety of perspectives)

Was that really it? Five books? What did I do for the rest of the month? Oh, that's right, instead of spending my evenings parked on the couch with 200 pages of literary luxury, I spent half of them digging through boxes in the office, and the other half finishing projects unearthed from said office. But that's from the non-superhero part of my double life and, thus, not fodder for this blog. Well, except for the previous 2 sentences. And that last one. Okay, I'm stopping now.