Last weekend was terrible for riding. It rained both Saturday and Sunday, pretty much non-stop. Lots of people at work are reporting flooded basements. I’m not even looking at mine.

But reading was good. Here’s what’s going on in my reading world:

  • I began Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and have read about 120 pages so far. So far, it’s great. It’s a good story, absorbing, with an engaging main character, and the sentences are beautiful. I’ll write more later, but basically it’s about a 20-year-old man living with a wealthy London family; the father in the family is a recently-successful Tory MP. It takes place in the 80s under Thatcher. The main character, Nick, comes from a much less wealthy background and is gay, and so is an outsider in several senses. He is figuring out his place in the family and in the world at large.
  • I’m continuing with Manguel’s History of Reading, which, if you have looked at this blog before you will know, I like quite a lot. More quotations to follow.
  • I’m almost finished with Mary Oliver’s book of poems American Primitive, which I highly recommend. Very beautiful, striking poems about nature and people in nature. I’ve posted a few poems here.
  • I’m slowly reading The Tale of Genji, a series of loosely-linked stories about court life in 11th century Japan and could be considered the first novel (if you’re into things like naming first novels). This world is very remote from ours, in time and in customs. The stories so far have been about Genji’s pursuit of women and the political consequences of those pursuits. I’ve only read about 1/10 of the book and I’m sensing now that the plot is shifting from Genji’s pursuit of women to his taking on a more powerful political role and having to give up some of his youthful pleasures. We’ll see.
  • Finally, I’m slowly reading through Virginia Woolf’s diary, Vol. 1. This is a good book to look into for a bit before falling asleep — not to say that it’s boring, but it’s best read slowly, and I like keeping something on the nightstand to read for 10 minutes or so before bed. It’s largely about her reading and writing, her friends, her entertaining, her work with Leonard on their printing press. It’s a valuable read, I think, for the occasional revealing detail or eloquent description.

In spite of my earlier post about longing to do more rereading, I bought more books over the weekend. I suppose new books will most often win out over the old ones. Pretty, new books are just too hard to resist.

I picked up a copy of Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, which I heard about through Jane Smiley’s book about reading novels. Those of you who like book lists might like hers — she has a list of 100 novels she read in the course of three years and this book describes that project. You’ll find the list here.

I also got a new book of poems, Jane Hirschfield’s book Given Sugar, Given Salt for when I’m finished with Oliver. I read Hirschfield’s book of essays on poetry, Nine Gates, a couple years back and loved it. This book is a great way to learn how to read poems or to enhance your reading of poetry; her insights are exquisite. I don’t mean to imply that her book is about “how to read a poem,” but in the course of discussing particular poems she models careful, sensitive, deep reading.

Finally, I picked up Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black. I’m looking forward to this one.

So, although I have many, many great Manguel quotes to leave you with, I’ll limit myself to one:

However readers make a book theirs, the end is that book and reader become one. The world that is a book is devoured by a reader who is a letter in the world’s text; thus a circular metaphor is created for the endlessness of reading. We are what we read. The process by which the circle is complete is not, Whitman argued, merely an intellectual one; we read intellectually on a superficial level, grasping certain meanings and conscious of certain facts, but at the same time, invisibly, unconsciously, text and reader become intertwined, creating new levels of meaning, so that every time we cause the text to yield something by ingesting it, simultaneously something else is born beneath it that we haven’t yet grasped. That is why — as Whitman believed, rewriting and re-editing his poems over and over again — no reading can ever be definitive.

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