Catching Up

Actually, this post won’t do a whole lot of catching up, as I have at least two months of reading that has gone undocumented here. It will have to stay undocumented, mostly. But I was thinking that I might try to do a once-weekly (or so — don’t want to get too specific) overview of what’s going on with my reading, as a way of keeping up with the blog without writing the long reviews I’m not feeling much like writing these days. We’ll see how that goes.

But first, I do want to say that Mark Doty’s Dog Years is unmissable if you like nonfiction and like dogs — and it’s unmissable even if you don’t like those things, although I won’t insist on that quite so loudly. But seriously, it’s not a book just for dog-lovers. It’s about Doty’s experiences with his two dogs, no surprise, but it’s really a book about loss, life, and death more generally, and it’s beautiful and profound. It’s so warm and human and moving, and it’s the best attempt to understand the mind of a dog I’ve ever read, while at the same time being very careful to acknowledge that dogs are not humans and we can’t ever really understand their mysteries. I think what works so well is that he shows such great respect for dogs, for their individuality and dignity, and he makes an important case for why loving animals matters and is not merely a waste of time and energy that could be devoted to other things.

Okay, now for more recent reading. I picked up Mrs. Dalloway the other day as part of my most likely decades-long attempt to read and reread Woolf’s major works. It’s been a while since my last Woolf book, The Common Reader. I’m not sure if this is my second or third reading of the novel, although I would guess it’s my third. I do know I read it in 1998, since I wrote that on the inside cover of my copy. It’s such a joy to return to, and I love the way the book makes me slow down to read it carefully. I don’t want to miss an idea or an image.

I’m enjoying the novel so much, I decided to pick up the second volume of her diary, which will take me through the four years up to the publication of Mrs. Dalloway. I’m thinking of keeping the diary on my nightstand and reading it before bed, which will mean I’ll probably be reading it for the next year or so, but that’s okay. I’ve also been tempted to pick up Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf, and I still might do it, but I’m worried that I’ll feel bogged down by its length, slow reader that I am.

I’m also in the middle of Tom Bissell’s new essay collection Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation. I really liked the first four essays, three of which are on literary topics and one of which is about film. The essay “Writing about Writing about Writing” is a very fun overview of how-to-write books, and there’s another great one on the Underground Literary Alliance and insiders and outsiders in the literary/publishing world. The next two essays haven’t been up to the quality of the first four, and I particularly disliked one in which he attacked the political writer Robert Kaplan. He may well need attacking, but the tone was unpleasant to read. But the essays are now taking a more literary turn, and I have hopes I will like the remaining ones.


Filed under Books

10 responses to “Catching Up

  1. I had only heard of Tom Bissell for travel stories and short stories. Please do write about “writing about writing about writing” 🙂 (although there might a sub-niche of “blogging about blogging about blogging”)


    • I think there probably is a sub-niche of blogging about blogging … but I’m not sure I’d want to go there! The writing essay is great — he goes over various categories of how-to books and critiques examples within each category, and his tone is amusing and light. It’s ultimately an essay about the question of whether writing can be taught at all, and I thought his answer made sense. The book he seemed to like the best is John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist.


  2. I had not plans to read Doty’s book because dog books always seem to end with the dog dying and me sobbing. But you make it sound really interesting and I may have to reconsider. And Mrs. Dalloway, well one of my all-time favorite books, so yay! The Hermione Lee bio is excellent though it is not a fast read. I’ve gotten through the first three volumes of Woolf’s diaries reading them before bed. I’ve been thinking lately it might be time to start in on volume four.


    • Well, I should warn you that Hobgoblin liked the book very much but didn’t finish reading it because it does get sad. But it’s still very, very good! Reading Woolf’s diary before bed is a really great to do it. I haven’t yet decided on the bio. I’m tempted now, but I wonder whether I’ll have time/motivation once school starts again, and I probably can’t finish it before then. We’ll see.


  3. You have to blog occasionally or else I don’t know which essay collections to read! 🙂 I’m sorry the Bissell was marred by a hostile essay, and I dislike that sort of tone, too. But the other essays sound very interesting. I hardly ever reread, but did so a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I can imagine that Virginia Woolf is a brilliant writer to reread – you’d always find something new.


    • Well, how can I resist the chance to influence your essay reading? 🙂 The Bissell collection is very interesting, if uneven. I think it’s probably best read selectively rather than straight through. Yes, Woolf most definitely rewards rereading — I hope to keep returning to her for a long time to come.


  4. I do hope you do a weekly wrap up sort of post as I always love hearing about what you’re reading (and what you’re doing otherwise, too!). I’ll have to pass along the title of the Doty book to a coworker who has two black labs and loves reading books about dogs. You write about it so enthusiastically I might even have to read it myself. By the way I checked out Orlando by VW just last week from my library thinking it will be my next classic that I read, but I need to finish East of Eden first (am halfway through, but it’s a long one!).


    • Thank you, Danielle! I think Orlando is a great choice when you’re ready for another classic. It’s so much fun. I’m looking forward to rereading it one of these days. I’m glad you will be able to recommend the Doty, and I do think you would like it too!


  5. Rereading Woolf is an activity I would strongly recommend! And you should not worry about Hermione Lee’s biography, it can be read in bits and pieces and in the pace you like.


    • I actually started reading the Lee biography, and I see what you mean — it doesn’t need to be read all at once with intense focus. I want to read it carefully, but I can do it over a long period of time. It’s very good so far; I love the opening chapter on biography.


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