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Monday, March 27, 2017

Harder Books

I was perusing a post by the divine Duchesse; she discusses ways to keep your aging mind working. She mentioned a post she wrote a few years ago on reading harder books, so I took a look. There was my comment about just having read Louise Erdrich's "Round House."

I had no recollection of reading that book. So I looked at a plot summary on wikipedia. I still have no recollection. That is depressing.

Another reason to keep teaching. I teach "harder books" all the time. And I teach them over and over again. I know them quite well. So well that I could do all the quizzes on the Iliad and the Odyssey on a great Harvard mooc by classicist Gregory Nagy even though I haven't taught those works for many years.

I started teaching a Shakespeare course after the fellow who "owned" the course retired. I felt somewhat rusty at first, but I can now say--after 15 years--that I know the plays quite well.

I just completed the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I do remember them (so far).

It turns out that I remember my reading of Proust (took me over a year). That might be because I listen to an audiobook on the way to work.

Two harder books that I have been unable to finish because they are so painful: The Radetsky March and Austerlitz. I keep returning to them. I can only read a little at a time.

Perhaps re-reading is the key. One Erdrich book I loved and remember quite well is The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.  I read it several times in a short space because I loved it so much.

Ditto for the master of harder books Henry James: Wings of the Dove, Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl. The harder the better as far as I'm concerned.  Same for his somewhat less-difficult friend Edith Wharton: Age of Innocence and House of Mirth.

And how can we forget Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss?

Does re-reading help keep one's mind at work? Or is it the book and the reader's mind? I remember some Trollope. But I REALLY remember lots of Dickens.  I read about eight books by Anita Brookner recently but barely remember anything--except a sense of melancholy.

What to read next?


Janice Riggs said...

I read biography and history - mostly because I really want to understand the people or the events about which I'm reading! I try to find the most academically-respected book that I can find on the subject, and then I do the work, including looking up words I don't know, and trying to find corroboration for things that don't seem like they might be factual. I don't know if it helps my brain, but it certainly makes me a true WWII wonk!

Fiction is off my list completely, because I found that, like you, I couldn't remember what I'd read. When I started a novel and realized about 10 pages in that I'd already read it, I know that it was time to step up my game!


Margie from Toronto said...

I read both fiction and non-fiction and always enjoy an interesting biography, unfortunately many now on the shelves tend to be of the "tell all" sensationalist ilk. I do have a book on Catherine the Great and one of the Last Dowager Empress of China in the TO BE READ pile though so I am hopeful.
Perhaps it is a factor of age (I think we are about the same age FS) that we become more aware of the passage of time and all the books that we haven't read as yet. I have read most of the classics" but have never been a real fan of Dickens - perhaps it is time to give him another try. I have started Proust - try to read a chapter each evening before bed - it will take a while. A friend employed this method in order to read Joyce's "Ulysses" - perhaps that should be next year's big endeavour. Have you read it?

Atlantic said...

Books I have read somewhat recently that I have enjoyed for various reasons (not all are hard though):

Capital in the Twenty-First Century--Thomas Picketty (I found it very accessible, well written and thought provoking--really enjoyed it and yes, read it all the way through)

The Goldfinch--Donna Tartt (beautifully written)

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies--Hilary Mantel...which led me to read her very good book about the French Revolution (A Place of Greater Safety)...which led me to buy Simon Schama's book about the French Revolution (which I have yet to read)

Thinking about the French vs American Revolutions, I realize that so much of our US foreign policy is influenced, falsely I think, by the notion that the American Revolution was an archetypal revolution....and that if we just overthrow other King Georges (by whatever name) democracy will flourish. Ours wasn't actually a "revolution"--it was more of a divorce. A better example for how revolutions lead to decades of political convulsion is the French example. But I digress

How We Learn--Benedict Carey (well researched summary of recent neuroscience of learning)

Listen Liberal--Thomas Frank (liberal critique of the Democratic Party)

Empire of Cotton--Sven Beckett (excellent history of cotton as it ties together all sorts of historical strands BUT it really needed an editor...I suspect it started life as disparate academic papers)

The Door--Magda Szabo (slim volume, odd story, oddly compelling)

Independent People--Halldor Laxness (Icelandic epic that makes one realize one never ever wants to be reincarnated as a poor Icelandic shepherd--memorable, not a fun read)

Confessions of an Economic Hitman--John Perkins (suggested by someone in the comments section of a NYTimes article--actually quite chilling--worth reading and though one hopes it is dramatized, my search into its authenticy makes it seem so)

Excellent Sheep--William Deresiewicz (no doubt you have read this being in the academy--first two thirds very good, "solutions" less persuasive to me)

Atlantic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Atlantic said...

Law's Empire--Ronald Dworkin (legal philosophy)
A Theory of Justice--John Rawls

Atlantic said...

ps Confessions of Economic Hitman--wrote that comment poorly. When I looked into it, his accusations seem to be substantiated (one might hope they were dramatized but I fear that they were not).