Sunday, 18 January 2009

Musing from a trivial and yet not so trivial reader

The weekend is for me to enjoy some books. I feel like I don't read enough, that I do too much browsing, TV watching and time wasting. At the moment I have a cold, so getting in a comfortable blanket and reading a book is about the only form of happiness that cannot be hampered by it. So that's what I have been doing since yesterday evening and am planning to do for the rest of the weekend. The problem resides in what kind of book to read. As a literature graduate and more, I try to read sometimes some serious, "heavy" literature. That said, since the end of my studies, I more or less stopped reading classics and grande littérature, except when I had to teach them, to become an avid reader of crime fiction. This is something I started when I was doing my degree: I had no less than 80 books to read in my first year, so great literature was not synonymous of enjoyment. Reading for fun meant reading lighter things, if you can consider murder a lighter thing (and, that said, some crime novelists are actually great writers in their own right and their book do have a literary value). Only Anglo-Saxon writers such as Anthony Burgess (of course) survived sporadically this boycott.

This year, I decided to stop that tendency and get back to some serious reading. I want exercise my mind like I used to. My mother decided to buy me for Christmas a few big books. I forgot one at home (shame on me), but got at least one here to start my new year's resolution. It is from Dag Solstad, a Norwegian writer, and in French (the language in which I am of course reading it) it is titled Honte et Dignité, in English it is Shyness and Dignity. After a few pages, I was sold. It is written as the third person soliloquy of a professor who discovers the vacuity of his life. Quite dense, but never pedantic, and the character's analysis of Ibsen's plays made me want to read them. On a more trivial note, his depiction of literature classes, with lazy and blasés students, unwilling to do even the most basic intellectual effort reminded me of my past life (lives?) as a teacher and student. I love this book also because it is genuine.

That said, I did not stop reading lighter stuff. I enjoy comic books too, and as my wife and I visited went to a library yesterday, I got a couple of them out. I usually have at least a few Batman and Catwoman, because they are often crime fiction stories with superheroes. There is also this book from Tardi, bought by my dad, which I am planning to start reading this weekend too. Tardi makes heavy subjects light, so it should be an interesting read. And there are also many other books on my bookshelves that I want to read and wouldn't mind starting now. So that puts me in the position where I am going to read many at once. It is also something I used to do during my university life: we had many deadlines, things have to be read and understood in a short period of time for different classes. I get back in the habit when I feel, like now, that there is so much to read. But devoid of those deadlines, mass reading is actually enjoyable. It is like a buffet: you pick and choose what you feel like then absorb it and enjoy it at your own pace. And when you spend time on something lighter, you don't feel intellectual guilt.


VioletSky said...

I love reading mysteries - especially by British writers. I would counter that Ruth Rendell is a stimulating intellectual writer, to name one. As is Minette Walters. There is a fair bit of detail and psychological drama going on besides the 'crime' or 'murder' and I find I am always learning something from these books.

Guillaume said...

Oh, crime fiction can be much deeper than many would suspect. It is an heir to the XIXth century realists, and that in itself count for something. More importantly, when it is well written, it shows the dark side of human psyche great authenticity and remains entertaining.