That’s right … I’m reading three books at once. “All the King’s Men” by Penn Warren, “Through the Language Glass” by Guy Deutscher, and “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem. Good books, all—a fabulous novel, a thought-provoking meditation on language-culture influence, and essays on books & arts culture.
These are mood-related books for me. And time-space related, as well. As I’m trundling around Prague, or writing at home, and always trying to avoid everything re socio-politico-televistic, I have options. Lately, one option has not been wholly engrossing/intellect-grabbing. And since I’m very story oriented, I’ve wanted to read more non-fiction to fill out my philosophical cravings. Novels pull me into their world and don’t let me go. That’s okay. I prefer the ephemeral stage than the actual. Life would be terribly boring for me without the written story.
But here’s where I become contradictory. This love of story comes from passion for language. Deutscher has this fascinating theory about “why the world looks different in other languages.” This is not science, but culture, politics, the passage of time, and … science, too! He begins with the concept of color. Sounds as easy as primary and secondary. It’s not.
Likewise a deflection from fiction is Lethem’s collected essays. I’d read his journalism in Harper’s and the NYT and elsewhere. While I’ve tried to stay away from criticism and cultural essays over the past 8 months or so (mainly because what I’ve found written is done poorly, in my opinion, or taking such esoteric angles on subjects, that all I could do by the middle of such essays was to sigh. Sigh.) there’s that other tug at my conscience that asks me to “please” keep up with society (or at least with one of its subheadings, “culture”).
The Lethem essays focus on art and writing and book culture topics. I hadn’t known Lethem was a science fiction writer. And a good writer, too. His passion for the works of J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick are enough to draw me toward that genre. Which, well said by many before me, in their capable hands transcends any notion of genre. On the other hand, both of those authors are dead, and their greatest stories were written between the time I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parent’s eyes (they hadn’t even met each other yet, in Dick’s case) and while I was in my Stephen King phase. Which makes it fortunate that good stories transcend contemporary and, especially, pop culture.
At some point soon I’m going to dive back into “King’s Men” to finish this masterpiece. It’s worth savoring, actually, so I’m not un-happy that I’ve had it going so many weeks. (to confess, I put it aside when I found a copy of “Cloud Atlas”) Also, I want to begin “East of Eden” soon; it’s a story I’ve wanted to read for many years. As for the other two: books on language and of collected essays can be read just about anywhere; and on those odd days where I find myself torn between fantasy and uber-reality, the short-form comes in handy.