Monday, March 4, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Book....Stuff

There are a few ways I can tell I'm depressed if I'm not on-the-surface aware of it - you know how things just become the new normal and it seems like it's always been this way: I can't make decisions - trying to decide what to buy or cook for the week sends me into a tailspin, I don't try to watch tv because I know the list of shows on the pvr will just blur into an inchoate mass, and if I listen to music while I'm working out I can't pick a playlist, I just listen to songs alphabetically; I find myself sobbing while lifting weights and listening to The Song of Bernadette; and some of the joy goes out of reading.

It gets really hard to review books in this state, because I kind of feel like I have to concurrently review my mood, or I'm not being fair to the book (I realize no one's FORCING me to review books, or PAYING me to review books, or really even ASKING me to review books, so this is a matter of no urgency. Nevertheless.) There are still books that I feel like I should reread because they seemed so much like something I would like or people I generally agree with liked them, so it seems likely that my mental state was a factor - Zone One, Salamander, The Diagnosis, Open Secrets - and yet the very thought of them generates a kind of psychic nausea and revulsion.

So I got sick and didn't read for four days. I'm not sure there has been that long a string of non-reading days since I learned to read. No, wait - when we go on vacation sometimes I don't read. After I had Angus and was in a state of post-general-anaesthetic delirium, it was difficult to focus on reading, but I did it, because everything else in my world felt so suddenly strange and dislocated that I couldn't bear to lose that too. But the flu erased even my need to read. Or eat. Or sit upright. Or do anything except sleep and watch Netflix on my ipad.

Once I was ready to read again, I couldn't figure out what to reach for. So first I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I had been about a fifth of the way through when I got sick. I have to start using the "recommended by" feature on Goodreads because I know something spurred me to finally request this from the library, but I can't remember what it was. The copy I got was paper, and not encased in plastic, and starting to wear away - the 'Y' in 'Brooklyn' is totally gone. I like this - it made it easier to imagine that I was reading a beloved tome from someone's collection. What an amazing book. It makes it hard to say anything, because it seems like anything I say will be trite and inadequate, and even if I did come up with something good, it would certainly already have been mentioned somewhere in the years of scholarship. And yet something must be said. It was such an effective, visceral rendering of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn that it's like - no, it's not even like watching a movie about it, it's like BEING THERE, so you feel slightly begrimed with turn-of-the-century Brooklyn street dust when you put the book down. And at the same time, the interior lives of the characters are so vivid that it's like the reader has been atomized and floated gently down over the entire city and into all the characters. And the push-pull conflicting intense relationships between parents and children, particularly when poverty and struggle and alcoholism are involved, and how romantic love thrives even in the absence of the necessities of life, and how someone can sometimes say the absolute right thing at the absolute right time that will change your life - or the wrong thing, and it changes in a whole different way.

Yup, I was right. Sounds dorky. Anyway, if you happen to be the person whose comment or blog post or review made me read this book now, profuse thanks.

So now I was doubly screwed - coming off being sick AND reading something brain-smashing. I took the easy out - reading the next book due back at the library, which was Jo Nesbo's The Bat (for some reason Goodreads doesn't give an English title although this entry seems to be for the English version, but it's kind of fun to try saying Flaggermusmannen, so there's that). I've read some of this series all out of order, and it's generally pretty good. For the first half of this book, I was wondering if I was totally wrong about the other books, or if Nesbo was just a slow starter who learned on the job. It may have been a bad translation or just things lost in translation - chapters kept ending with people making remarks that seemed like they were perceived as clever or witty, but to my ears they were baseless and nonsensical ("One should never drink chocolate milk while driving a tractor" - that kind of thing). I was trying to decide whether I should give up, when suddenly things started to pick up, and then simultaneously things got train-wreck depressing and almost everybody died. Is that an illustration of 'be careful what you wish for'?

And now I'm between books again. And still not sure where I'm going next. Maybe here. Although if that doesn't cheer me up I might feel like things really are beyond hope.

Flaggermusmannen.


14 comments:

StephLove said...

I did my dissertation of female coming of age novels and though I didn't write on ATGIB I re-read while I was researching, just for background. (I'd read it as a kid.) It is a powerful novel. Both my mother and mother-in-law told me it was their favorite book when they were teenagers. (They are both 70ish.)

StephLove said...

BTW, I know what you mean about life associations that surround novels making it hard to read them again.

I used to love Willa Cather but now even thinking about her fills me with feelings of shame and failure (grad school trauma). It was sort of a triumph I was able read Death Comes for the Archbishop for book club last month.

Kim said...

Back when I used to post reviews on Goodreads (before GR started eating them and they vanished from time to time) I always kind of made excuses for books when I read them at the wrong time of year--if it was summer but I read something ponderous it might not catch me properly, or if shit had gone down in life there was no way I could appreciate a book. So I'm comforted to see you noting this stuff too. I'm glad you liked A Tree so much. I assigned it a lot as extra credit to girls who I thought needed to read it. Today, it was one of the March Madness choices at Harper Collins Canada, and they paired it against one of the modern YA girl-saves-the-world books. http://hccmarchmadness.ca/vote/vote-2013/ No contest!

Bibliomama said...

I love you guys - you so get me.

Mary Lynn said...

I'm not sure if I've waxed on to you about how much I love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I know I have waxed on to a lot of people about it. I absolutely loved it.

Nicole said...

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a truly mind blowing book. It's so excellent. One of the scenes that so strongly stands out for me is when the kids are getting their shots, and their arms are dirty, and the doctor is completely exasperated with those "poor people".

Sorry you're feeling depressed. I will tell you this: a friend of mine recommended We Need To Talk About Kevin. I don't remember how many chapters I read - not many - but I just couldn't do it. I was going into a depressive tailspin from that damn book.

Sasha said...

I know what you mean about seeing signs without really feeling like you're depressed. It's weird. Although I'm not sure I've ever fully realized the decision making thing - but it's totally true. How is it that we can see what our brain is doing without our brain seeing it too???

I just finished Away, and The Dressmaker is in at the library, but Terry Pratchet has been on my list of authors to try.

Sasha said...

Ok, I also included in that comment, vis a vis Terry Pratchet: "Isn't there a whiff of Douglas Adams about him? I need a pick-me-up, so its either that or read Hitchhiker's for the umpteenth time."

Then I looked at Good Omens on Good Reads (no relation), and not only has a friend (like an actual, flesh-and-blood friend) rated it 4-stars, but it's number 2 on this list:

http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/312.Best_Humorous_Books#12067

Number 1? Hitchhikers. Maybe I'll join you on Good Omens.

Sasha said...

That should be "I almost included", not "I also included".

Sasha said...

Feeling spammed yet?

Sasha said...

Ok, so I'm about a dozen pages in to Good Omens (ah, the beauty of iBooks preview); or, well, I'm not sure exactly how many real-life pages (ah, the drawbacks of iBooks preview) and I'm ready to go and buy everything Terry Pratchett has ever written. And to do penance for misspelling his name in all of the above comments.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

Everyone has read A Tree Grows... except for me! I should rectify that.

Two days ago I finally flipped to the last page of IQ84 (Murakami) and I've been at a bit of a loss as to what to do with myself. I've picked up a few books, read a page, and then wandered off. I think IQ84 may have screwed up my reading life for all eternity!! Or maybe just for a couple of days until I realize that I can actually go back to reading books that I truly enjoy again.

To be honest, I've also been wondering if I might be depressed lately because I'm having a hell of a time convincing myself to do anything more than sit on the couch and stare out the window. I just feel incapable of having emotions or interests for the past few months. It's rather like being numb. But if it is depression, I am aware of it enough to know that it's really an inconvenient way of thinking so I'm trying my best to pretend that I'm not that way at all.

clara said...

I brought home A Tree.. last year from the library, had never read it, loved the hell out of it, and then my husband, who is fairly specific in his fiction needs (Neil Stephenson, Charlie Stross, old sci-fi, the Master & Commander books) picked it up and loved the hell out of it. It's magic.

As it is now Surly Thursday I hope you've got your pissy pants on. Come on. Let us have it.

Bunnyslippers said...

Please please please read Good Omrens. It is a cure for the blahs. I keep re-buying it because the copies I lend out never come home. I happily re-buy it. Omens. My gadget will not let me fix it.

Seriously, I have bought it three times and will probably buy it again. Read it.