We had our first major snow storm of the season today, and school was cancelled — yippee! It would have be a perfect Valentine’s Day gift, except that the Hobgoblin is sick, so we’re not really feeling celebratory. And how did I spend my day off? Working, of course. I read ahead in my classes and graded quizzes, although I had some time left over for a nap and some fun reading. That and some snow shoveling.
I’m nearing the end of Proust’s The Guermantes Way; I know I haven’t written much about this (maybe I haven’t written anything), but I am enjoying it, just in a low-key kind of way. I’m not as thrilled by this volume as I was by the first two; it’s more about social dynamics and less about the subtleties of the mind — although the subtleties of the mind are there too. The narrator is making his way in high society and finding out what this society is not what he expected it to be. The book is full of accounts of conversations and people’s comings and goings and gossip and wit, or people’s attempts at wit. While at times I wish I were through with Proust so that I’d have more time for other things, I’ve been surprised at how I’m generally content to keep reading him, a little bit at a time, absorbing it slowly and really living with it.
And I’m about 1/3 of the way into Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which, if you follow this blog, you’ve gotten many quotations from. I’m amused at the way Boswell rushes through the first 54 years of Johnson’s life in 240 pages (the rushing being relative, of course — my edition is over 1,200 pages) until the time when Johnson and Boswell meet, at which point he slows way down and gives all kinds of detail of their every interaction. They discuss in a few conversations how the best biographies are those written by someone who has known and interacted with the subject, which explains Boswell’s odd pacing in the book — he’s not trying to be thorough about every part of Johnson’s life, but is focusing on the parts he knows best. The first 240 pages before their meeting were interesting, but not nearly as much as the sparks that fly in the pages afterwards. Much of this part consists of loosely-connected (or completely unconnected) anecdotes of witty conversations, political and literary debates, copies of letters, and descriptions of what Johnson is writing.
I’m making my way through The Best American Essays, 2006 and so far I’m not feeling terribly impressed. I suppose that irritating introductory essay set the tone for the whole book. Some of the essays I do like; one in particular is Emily Bernard’s, “Teaching the N-word,” about, as you can surmise, dealing with race in the classroom. Of the six other essays that I’ve read, however, two were okay but ultimately unsatisfying, two just didn’t reach me at all, one I find whiny, and another I thought was full of cliches, very earnestly described. I’m going to stick with it, hoping the essays improve, but I’m disappointed because I remember being enraptured with previous editions of this series. It makes sense, though, that the editor is going to set the tone of a collection, and if I’m not impressed by the editor, I’m not going to be impressed by the collection.
And lastly I’m reading The Rings of Saturn and finding it an interesting experience; I feel like I’m not really taking it in, that I don’t really know what I have on my hands and so don’t know exactly how to process it and make sense of it. I’m enjoying it, but I don’t feel like I’ve quite got a handle on it. This would be a good candidate for a re-reading, or perhaps (or additionally) further reading in Sebald’s other books, to get a better sense of how to understand him. If a book teaches you how to read it, I haven’t quite learned the lesson yet. More on this later.