Saunders, Catton, Bryson

ex02 — Bryson, Catton, and Saunders

I’ve been having one of the most challenging and exciting and dorkful reading life lately. At the heels of the first installment of The Annotated TBR, I started reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and couldn’t help but dive into A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. And, because both books were ridiculous for me to transport that one time I had to show up for a meeting, I started George Saunders’ much-lauded, was-everywhere-in-2013 Tenth of December collection.

I guess shame-listing books from the TBR helps, haha. I didn’t expect I’d pick up books from that list so soon after talking about them, but I suppose the rediscovery—the reminding of oneself re the urgencies of having acquired those books in the first place!—was a good push. I was curious about the books again, and I was all too happy to sate that curiosity. Good job, noggin.

The George Saunders—bought during the January Sales of Ruination—and, by the way, as of this writing I haven’t bought a book since January closed!—ahem: the Saunders was a surprise. With all its popularity, I figured it to be in the tradition of Richard Yates or Raymond Carver—because I’m an old fogey that way—but it all-too-immediately annihilated my bias. George Saunders has a bewilderingly exuberant voice, much to my surprise. And, yes, apprehension. The first two Saunders stories I’ve read so far are good, you’re carried along in the confusion of the roster of voices he’s employed—and right until the turning of the story, you’re still in this wide-eyed excitement.

But I’m personally not used to it. I’m going to get over the surprise, yes, eventually. In the meantime—because my disposition isn’t ready for it, because I know Saunders needs quiet and contemplation along with a willingness to be taken to tonal peculiarities—Tenth of December waits.

It’s not like I’m wanting of reading material at the moment. The two other books have taken up the bulk of my time lately. I’ve just passed the 200-page mark of the 834-page commitment that is Eleanor Catton‘s The Luminaries, so I’ve been feeling celebratory. (Sure, I haven’t picked it up since I passed that 200-page mark two days ago, but give me a break.) As I’ve noted, there will be long stretches where I’ll be so into it, so involved with the characters, so in love with the language—and then I’ll have to slog through just-as-long sections that approximate glamorous chore-attending-to. And then again with the absorption, and then again with the polite boredom. Several people have told me that I am not alone in this, and that it all gets better—which is naturally a relief, because I’m already down 200 pages, haha. All that shipping and banking and mining jargon should not come to naught, come one, please.

So. The absolute wonder of the past couple of days, however, is A Short History of Nearly Everything. This morning, I found myself with my face smooshed against the pages that detailed how we all could be wiped off the face of the planet once an active supervolcano gets fed up with all our shit. That’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of days—going to bed with Bill Bryson and reaching, first thing in the morning, for the book with the Batman bookmark at the section on quantum mechanics, the section marginalia-ed, Read again tomorrow. I love how Bryson writes, I love how he explains things. The vastness of the body of knowledge, and all the minutiae that make that vastness sing. I love how how acknowledges that everything is complicated, and that there are certain scientific facts that our mind cannot comprehend—and then he tries, ruefully, with richly constructed metaphors. It’s making my dork heart so happy. And I have no idea what I’m to do with all the information in me.

There’s no urgency to finishing any of the books, and I’m not yet panicking that the last book I read was one whose plot I’ve completely forgotten. This calmness is curious, yes—I get restless when I’ve been with a book too long sans any discernible progress. Then again: There has been progress, and this jumping between challenging books has been doing me well. (And, yes, sure: It helps that these are books I willfully read—books that I’ve long wanted to read, books that I’m not reading just because.)

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