Sunday, February 25, 2007

Vanity Fair

I am a constant, though somewhat plodding, reader. Although not a voracious reader, in that I do not consume with my eyes so many thousands of words per week the way a champion cyclist might pedal so many hundreds of miles in the same space of time, still I always have a book sitting on my night table with a bookmark in it to indicate my progress, and I apply myself to that book as steadily as I can. Sometimes it takes me a month or more to read a volume, as most weekdays my reading is usually confined to bedtime. Books containing seven or eight hundred pages set in small type typically take me a long, long time to get through. I try to read carefully and almost always have a dictionary nearby; I even look up words I know the meanings of just to satisfy some question of nuance or derivation. Of the many joys I get from reading, no feature of it pleases me more than the fact that you’re never up against a clock.

I think the chief reason for why I write is to make me a better reader. Nothing can be more satisfying than to read a book with an eye toward what problems the author sets up for himself and to see how he goes about solving them. I particularly enjoy observing writing styles that, in some cases, feature unusual sentence constructions or, in others, an erratic unfolding of plot. Anybody can read a story for the story’s sake and derive great satisfaction from it, just like someone who has never played football can thoroughly enjoy watching a game on television. However, in the latter case, doesn’t it stand to reason that, for someone who has played the game, or even coached it, and who has a deeper understanding of it, the game must hold more? Having an insight into the athleticism involved, the sacrifices players make to reach that level, an appreciation of the punishment they take, of the finesse and brutality found in each contest, the strategy, working the clock, gamesmanship, the intangibles, and all of that which are lost on guys like me who have never studied a playbook or strapped on shoulder pads, must make the experience of watching a game richer. They enjoy it on a deeper and more meaningful level. So, I suggest, the amateur who writes gives himself an advantage in reading others may not have.

I like to use a bookrest when I read. The one I use, which I’ve had for more than ten years now, is of the simplest design, yet better than any other bookrest I’ve seen. It is made of strong wire, folds flat in three pieces, and holds any size book (not all bookrests do). It can accommodate the skinniest paperback on up to the thickest metropolitan phonebook. I attach two large, black metal clips to either side of the book to keep the volume as open and flat as it can and with the pages spread to their utmost. My favorite thing to do is to go alone to a diner and set my book up on the table to read while eating my meal and drinking my coffee afterward. At home, after dinner, I often sit at the dining room table with my java and follow the same procedure. There’s this one restaurant I have breakfast at nearly every Saturday morning, and I suspect I must be regarded as quite a character there, as I invariably order the same thing and religiously follow my ritual of setting up the bookrest and reading for an hour or more. They probably have a name for me, like The Bookworm or something. And, to complete my eccentric mien, I always ride there on my bike, which means I wear the stretchy black tights as I sit munching on a cheese omelet with eyes fastened to my book. However, as strange as I might appear, it happens from time to time that people come up and ask me where I got the bookrest and compliment me on my reading apparatus; so, even if I appear odd, at least I’m approachable.

The book in my bookrest right now is Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. I read it before roughly twenty years ago, and, although I’ve forgotten much of it, I’ve never forgotten the character of Becky Sharp, one of the most captivating characters in literature. She’s a scheming, dissembling minx who you can’t help but to like. For the past half year or so I’ve been stuck on Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and now Thackeray, a group who I consider a set, like I used to consider the movie actors Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino a set back in the seventies (now that they’re older they don’t seem so anymore). Dickens is the sentimental one, Trollope the amiable one, and Thackeray the witty one. I really endorse this book and encourage everyone to read it. It’s one of those rare books where the author is omniscient, yet reveals himself to reader, like the puppet master exposing himself to the audience during a performance. Thackeray pulls that off brilliantly. It is a masterpiece. Anyone who’s read Vanity Fair knows what I’m talking about.


Blogger LL said...

My brother was just extolling the virtues, and lack thereof, of Becky Sharp to me last weekend.

To him, she's quite possibly the best literary character of all time. You hate her, you love her, and then you hate her all over again. Then you hate yourself for letting Thackery manipulate you so. ;)

11:00 AM  
Blogger Farrago said...

I agree with you on the writer's perspective, though I rarely read books. Too many of the writers I have known personally talk about some author's style and emulating that, and another author's use of alliteration and imitating that, etcetera. I don't wish to discover that my writing style is reminiscent of someone I'm reading at the moment, or of my favorite author.

So I just write.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm trying to broaden my horizons and read more classics these days. Right now I'm reading Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Other Side of Paradise.

9:19 AM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

Wow, pretty heavy reading. Do you ever mix in a Carl Hiassen or something?

Funny, I always thought of DeNiro, Pacino and Nicholson as a set. Hoffman totally threw me off. ;)

7:00 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I read a lot, but not near like I used to. I used to be a pretty fast reader too, but I'm no longer as good as tuning out the world around me for the sake of a book. Who wants to live in the real world when fake ones are so much better?

8:11 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I love Vanity Fair. This has been on my re-read list for far too long. Next library stop, I'm picking it up. I'm reading Thomas Hardy now ... and if you've ever read any of him ... you know he too is witty.

Kathleen mentioned two books I really love. I just finished The Portrait of Dorian Grey and F. Scott, I've exhausted his writings time and time again.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Flash said...

It's all stealing from one another. It's been going on for a century now. For every Steven King, there are dozens of others who try and emulate him.

Because if there wasn't, Borders would only have like 50 books.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Schprock, I finished "Far From the Madding Crowd" over the weekend and absolutely loved it. I even cried. One of the best classics I've ever read so I just had to come back to give you the review in case you're looking for something new to read.

10:46 AM  
Blogger b o o said...

i'm not a fan of thackeray very dry reading. i did read it & enjoyed amelia the delusional as well as betty the opportunist.

how's you mr. schprock?

3:21 AM  
Blogger b o o said...

i prefer reading chinese novels. easier for a lazy bag of bones like me :)

3:22 AM  

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