“I couldn’t sleep, and so I read, but the novels I was reading only stimulated me more, and I would find myself wandering around the house with rushing fragments of Dickens, Austen or the Brontës whirring in my head. It is tempting to think of this form of insomnia, the inability to fall asleep, as a disease of agency and control, the inability to relinquish high self-reflexive consciousness for the vulnerable, ignorant regions of slumber in which we know not what we do.” — From “Failing to Fall,” one of Siri Hustvedt’s New York Times essays on insomnia.
No Dickens or Austen or the Brontës among the Tower of Currently Reading on the floor beside our futon of late, no—true to Hustvedt’s experience, however, I have been doing a lot of my reading at night. Mostly because I haven’t been doing a lot of sleeping at night.
I refuse to bore you with the specifics of my sleeplessness—including the senseless daydreaming, the pointless wanting, the heavy and heavier pressure on my chest when I see the clock blinking into 2 AM, 3, and to the no-turning-back-now of 4; how at dawn, the sunlight daring to slip through the thinner patches of our curtains, do I first feel the first stirrings of sleepiness. Welcome, Whateverday, fuck you and your loved ones.
Know, however, that when I’ve been curled beneath my thin blankets for two hours, certain that no sleep is coming—I reach for a book, almost any book. I can’t seem to settle, plus my choices have been fuzzy lately, no common denominator but my desire to read something, to have something keep me company in the slow crawl of the night. As evidenced below—from musings on literature, to a compact and dense novella on a house’s history, to anecdotes about the periodic table, to my go-to genre of romance.
Fine, yes, I hesitate to draw any correlation between my inability to relinquish the day—because that’s what I suspect my insomnia truly is—and my odd choice of books lately, but, you know, I will grasp what semblance of reason I can get. [Even if for the purposes of this blog post, haha.] It’s been a pretty eclectic survey of my bookshelves, though I think I should just shrug and ‘fess up that, hell, I think this is pretty representative of my reading tastes. But I’ve never had such a range of subject matter and style in such a short time—I read these near the end of last week and the weekend too.
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My first Milan Kundera here, with The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. [I am not particularly inclined to read more of him, especially his fiction, meh.] I filched The Curtain from my housemate’s shelves and spent two days with Kundera’s musings on literature, on the novel, on particular novels. A self-prescribed cure for reader’s blog and blogger’s malaise, really—people’s books [or blogs!] about books. I enjoyed it, I guess. But there wasn’t really anything that shook me, nothing that made me think, Yes, that’s exactly what I think about the novel, Mr. Kundera. Perhaps I’d have felt more about this book if I felt more about Kundera himself? We may never know, then. Da-dum.
Next up was Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, this slim, odd, deliciously lush book that details the history of a house and its many inhabitants through the years. Yes, it reminded me of a recent read, though Erpenbeck’s prose [translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky] is this dense glorious muck, full of repetition and echoes. The book read like a collection of prose poetry—or, well, a 150-page prose poem. I am in love with this book, and I’m going to need more time to sit on this one; I’ll attempt to talk about this book during the German Literature Month.
And then I spent most of the weekend with The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. Subtitled, “Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements,” well, it’s that. Meaning, I have got about 400 pages more useless information in the fertile greens of the Useless Information Center in my brain. I had a lot of fun, although there was horror at the back of my head: though the stories and the personalities were mostly unfamiliar to me, I am certain that I had the elements’ general characteristics, behavior, etc., down pat during high school. I balanced the shit out of them. Ugh.
Anyway, the book’s main flaw, methinks, is organization. Meaning, I could not see any structure—this, in an already difficult-subject kind of book—aside from a common theme in the elements-related story. That is, example: Great mistakes, artistic/romantic notions, mad scientists, and the like. I suppose this is better than the encyclopedic per-element way of sharing stories? I guess? Nah. I suspect this is a complaint because the topic has become alien to me. Otherwise, yes, I am nitpicking.
I spent the Sunday’s last hours with a romance novel: I reacquainted myself with Laura Lee Guhrke, with her Scandal of the Year. [A side note: I have a special affinity for Guhrke, who managed to send me into a fit of calamitous weeping with the Let’s-Make-It-Work scene of His Every Kiss, ugh!] Anyway, Scandal didn’t captivate me from the very beginning. At around page 50, I figured it was a mediocre book, although not a bad way to say goodbye to a Sunday. I suspect my reception had something to do with the unease of reading a historical romance novel set in 1903 to 1904. Dude. The heroine’s got a Gibson Girl hairstyle, she smokes, she drives a Mercedes. There are electric lights! This is alien territory in my constructed RomanceLandia! Heh. But, you know, character won out. Not necessarily their love story, mind you, but character—sure, archetypes at first: you’ve got your usual flamboyant ahead-of-her-times heroine with a painful past, and then there’s the straitlaced titled lord.
But, again, I should have known: if there’s anyone who can write a goddamned Let’s-Make-It-Work-Scene, with these two persons’ real lives and emotions and risks coming into play, hell, you’ve got to rely on Laura Lee Guhrke. [Can someone pay me, at least the price of two books, to write a paper on LLG’s wicked scenes?] In Scandal of the Year, despite the genre conventions, I was still afraid that these two wouldn’t end up together. It was that goddamned good, and their decision to have a Happily Ever After rang true. [Also, can someone pay me to write a paper on how protagonists that decide on their HEAs, instead of falling into them, are far, far better?]
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Always that little twinge of guilt upon finishing posts like this. Another bloggie annoyance—I don’t like it when I can’t dedicate an entire post to one book. I’m all about crazy exultations on my book love, book meh, book hateraterade. I know that I owe that to the book. But, you know, if this can fend off the general blogging malaise, if this can help me figure out what to do with this little space, hell, I will take it.