Friday, September 25, 2009

But Wait, There's More!! wacky symmetry

This started out as a book reviewing type of post, and as I was checking to get the titles of my current library selection right, noticed the wacky symmetry, to quote an old flame of mine, of what I'm reading, at least the titles thereof.

The Proust is a wonderful narration, very well done indeed, of the first volume and a bit of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, in English. I read this in French aeons ago at the uni, and more recently in English, but this really is better.

I tend to read far too fast, and you can't do that with Proust. He doubles back on himself, suggests all kinds of new ideas and ways of looking at what he said a while back, triggers all other kinds of ideas in the reader's own mind and experience, and you simply can't plow through to the end.

Well, he didn't either, come to think of it -- it was many volumes later that he came to any sort of beginning again, and I believe he never finished the whole series. This translation is not one of the new ones, it's the old Scott Moncrieff, and it's fine, really.

The rhythm is a big part of why Proust means what he means, as is true of good prose anyway, and SM does a decent job of preserving it. That and a narrator who knows how to read this material, makes a really good experience.

So I figured while I'm carding and spinning and weaving and knitting, at least the parts that don't require much thought, why not revisit some classics at the same time, and the library had this on the new shelf.

But you still have to have some less demanding stuff on hand, and But Wait, There's More is a funny and very skewering take on late night tv commercials, pointing out that they are very finely crafted to manipulate people into responding. And that one of the GOP language crafters (you know, death tax instead of inheritance tax, aroused emotional opposition to it) served his time on late night tv, too! very entertaining view of the industry and the people who run it.

The main guy he starts out with, Ron Popeil, not only hawked his wares on tv, but actually invented them, too. Mainly kitchen items. Other hawkers are selling items they have found and bought elsewhere, and are mainly providing the concept of selling them. But he literally thought up ideas and created the items. Very intriguing shop talk!

But when I realized I had put it down next to the Proust, it seems keenly appropriate to say but wait, after Swann's Way, there's more, and other stuff, too!

And right on cue came the title of the Wodehouse, agreeing that as usual, Jeeves is correct in this supposition! and finally The Whole Five Feet appears. The Wodehouse is your classic late night undemanding funny reading stuff, designed to ward off nightmares, easy material.

But The Whole Five Feet is a different thing entirely: it's the account of a year the writer spent battling both serious ill health, family problems, and a resolve to read the entire five feet on the bookshelf of the Harvard Classics. Actually it comes to a bit more than five feet, but what's a few inches between friends reading half a ton of wordage.

It's a terrific overview of that nineteenth century project, designed by an ex President of Harvard, to bring a liberal arts education to people who had little chance of schooling. His idea was that if you can read a few minutes a day, you can educate yourself at least as well as by getting advanced credentials. He didn't do it for profit, but seemed to be idealistic about bringing general literary and historical education to all the people who had no chance of Harvard.

And Five Feet is an insight into what the classics did to change the reader as he read, and how ancient texts which, he reminds us, were only written by people sitting in a room, not some received revelation, can still illuminate and reflect our own age, however modern we think we are. Well worth the read, I'd say.

It's written in approachable prose -- he doesn't fall prey to thinking he has to write highfalutin language just because he's reading it -- and I'd really recommend this.

So wacky symmetry and all, this is this week's reading and listening.

1 comment:

dogonart said...

I found Proust too difficult to read, since I, too, read far too quickly, and had not thought of listening. Mind you I'm not sure I would stay awake while listening. I'll try it once I get through Rebels of Ireland, my book club choice...800 pages of words, words, words, with some interesting info along the way. Twice I've dozed off with the book over my face. Heh! The reason I'm in the book club, apart from socializing, is so that I'll read books out of the norm for me. Sometimes a bit of a challenge.