Riding and reading

Yes, I rode my bike yesterday. No, it wasn’t a good idea. I thought I’d try, just to see what it felt like, particularly since I’ve felt the tiniest bit better because of the medication I’m on. But it will take longer than a week on medication to feel well enough to ride, I’m seeing. I was able to ride for 45 minutes or so, but my heart rate was high the whole time and I felt achy and sore. I’m sure I’ll try again in the next few weeks — I’m always curious to see whether I’ve improved or not and I don’t feel like I’ll know unless I try to ride — but no, I’m sure it’s not a good idea. I don’t see my endocrinologist until August 23rd, though, and does anybody really think I’m going to wait that long to try riding again?

But what I really want to write about are two books I’ve recently finished. The first is Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way, a book of criticism on In Search of Lost Time. I recommend this if you are looking for an overview of the novel. I don’t recommend it if you don’t want plot spoilers, because he talks about the book as a whole, including much discussion of the ending and plot developments in the middle. But plot spoilers aside, it’s got background information on Proust; an overview of the plot, characters, and setting; chapters covering Proust’s main themes, as Shattuck sees them; and a number of cool charts and diagrams.

Some parts of this book are rather odd (I give another example in this post); toward the end of the book, he includes a fictional element — a made-up dialogue between a radio journalist and producer, a Proust scholar, and a grad student in French. These people are supposedly putting together a radio program on Proust. Shattuck says he included this section because he believes that usual expository prose can’t say everything. I rather like this idea — that some things are better said in fictional form — but I can’t quite see that this is true in Shattuck’s case. Instead, the dialogue struck me as so highly improbable that I almost laughed my way through it. Shattuck should stick to his expository prose. But still, the book is worth picking up to start to get a handle on In Search of Lost Time.

The other book I wanted to mention is Geraldine Brooks’ novel The Year of Wonders, which turned out to be a fascinating and enjoyable read. I say it’s fascinating because it takes place in a small town in England in 1666 that gets hit hard with the plague — and I find the plague fascinating. It’s not a book to read at the dinner table, let me make clear.

The story is about Anna Frith, a young servant girl who grows and matures as she deals with the ravages the plague brings to her village. She has been fortunate enough to learn how to read and write, and she has a sensitivity and openness perhaps unusual to one in her station in that time period. She’s an interesting narrator (it’s told in the first person); she admires the intelligent, knowledgeable women in her town but fears them also as they are always in danger of being branded witches. As well as telling about the plague, the novel tells how old customs — midwives who presided at the birth of babies, women who possessed ancient folk remedies and healing powers — were both enjoyed and feared. When times were good, the townspeople would welcome women’s knowledge and powers, but when times turn bad, they lash out at these women and destroy them — at their peril.

The ending is a bit odd, but otherwise, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book — it’s great history and a good story all in one.


Filed under Books, Cycling, Fiction, Nonfiction

9 responses to “Riding and reading

  1. I read Year of Wonders some years ago and really, really enjoyed it. I’d like to re-read it at some point.


  2. Tsk tsk! Well, chronic illness is a pretty hard thing to accept. I’ve been told that every epileptic tries to go without their medicine at some point and they discover, to their shock and amazement, that their doctor was right about them needing medication. If your heart is involved, you might want to give your doctor the benefit of the doubt about not cycling for a while!


  3. I think it is only natural since you are starting to feel better to test just how much better you are. But be careful, you don’t want to overdo and then regret it! Easy for me to say, I know. I’d do the same thing if I were you.

    I think I might read the Shattuck book after Proust is done or maybe when I am closer to being done like you are. I don’t want spoilers to ruin whatever surprises there might be lurking. I’ve heard Year of Wonders is good and you have confirmed it for me. I’ll have to read it someday too.


  4. Oh dear! I didn’t ever notice that fictional dialogue at the end of the Shattuck – how awful! I do think academics are best off leaving that kind of thing to proper fiction writers; it’s really not their forte! And I do understand exactly why you might get on your bike too early. It’s the kind of thing I do all the time (although not with a bike, you understand). It usually becomes apparent pretty fast that it’s a bad idea!


  5. hepzibah

    Someone recently told me that I had to read The Year of Wonders, and now hearing a good review from you, I will find time for it 🙂 I hope.


  6. I put the Year of Wonders on my tbr list…I am saving Proust and all things Proustian for…I don’t know when. I’m sorry you aren’t feeling perfect yet…the thyroid is notoriously tricky to treat early on. I know you mentioned yoga a while ago…I’m getting back into yoga myself and it’s really lovely…perhaps that might supplement until you can ride again…


  7. I read The Year of Wonders several years ago and remember liking it, but even now I remember the ending was odd (though I don’t remember many of the other details). I wouldn’t mind rereading it at some point. Why is it books that talk about things like the Plague are so fascinating? Really it is sort of a terrifying thing, but reading about it from the comfort of the 21st century (knowing you will never get anything like it) makes it sort of entertaining!


  8. Yep, the ending to Year of Wonders just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story did it? I did like the book a lot though. And, take it easy ok 🙂


  9. Tara, it IS good enough to warrant a re-read, isn’t it? You’re right of course, Sylvia! I’ll do my best to be good, I promise. Stefanie — I do think you’d like the Shattuck book; it’s interesting and insightful. And the Brooks novel too! Litlove, I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone in my eagerness to get back to “work” again! And you really missed an amusing read — you would have laughed or groaned at the Shattuck dialogue too, I’m sure. Hepzibah, I do think you’d enjoy it! Courtney, isn’t yoga great? I’ve been distressed that my muscles are so very tired; they are tight normally, but this illness has made it worse. Sigh. Danielle, I’m so glad I live in the 21st century to enjoy modern medicine! That feeling of (relative) safety makes reading about the plague enjoyable (in a twisted way) for me. Iliana — no the ending didn’t fit at all — I don’t want to give details away for other readers, but, yes, very strange!


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