I haven't finished one book yet in 2012. Not one. I've started a few, and made some good progress but I keep getting distracted by other books and can't finish a single one. It's getting a little frustrating, especially seeing so many other book bloggers joyously declaring they're ready to post their first – or even second, the over-achievers! – review of the year, then here's me – six days into Apocalypse 2012 without a single finish to call my own.
I hang my head in shame.
I'm just over halfway in A Long Long Way, Mr. Sebastian Barry's previous Booker nominee. It tells the tale of Willie Dunne, of the recurring Dunne family, and his experiences in WW I. Positively gut-wrenching stuff. The description of death by mustard gas was an agony to read. How could human beings be so cruel to each other?
It's not all horrific, thankfully, but much of it is dedicated to expressing the brutality – and frustrations – of war. Impossible not to love Willie Dunne and wish him anywhere but along the front lines. Also difficult not to feel enraged when his superior officer denigrates the Irish, putting them down as stupid for going and getting themselves killed. As if they'd done so on purpose? I could have slapped the man which goes to show you how Mr. Barry creates such emotion in – in this case – a more stripped-down example of his prose, a less-poetic book than On Canaan's Side but powerful nonetheless.
During Willie's visit home on leave it feels so easy identifying with the glory of being bathed for the first time in ages, though I've never been that dirty I assure you. Reading it made me feel the itch of the nits (I'm scratching my head as I type this!) and the relief after the scrub down by his father, while Willie stood in the tin tub shivering but enjoying the personal attention from the parent who'd always found him lacking before. Such a simple scene, really, though not simple at all from the standpoint of their fraught relationship. Having been tested and coming through one stage of the war raised the boy in the opinion of his father, disappointed as he'd been by his son's short stature and inability to prove himself strong and manly otherwise. Sad knowing it took so much to get his father's attention though Willie himself seems proud enough of the fact.
In a nonfiction work for review it's the story of Victoria and Albert, specifically Victoria's obsession with death and mourning, contrasted with Albert's complete resignation he had no doubt he would die young. Many readers will find it eerie how accepting of death Albert was, though Rappaport does a brilliant job explaining reasons for it. For one, he was a German having to live away from his homeland and all his family. For another, when he married Victoria he was discriminated against for being foreign and also emasculated for his status as mere husband of the monarch, until made Prince Consort.
Ironically, it turns out he's the one who put the ramrod iron in Victoria's spine, disciplining her from a silly thing (Victoria?!) into a serious ruler. But even then he was every inch the king, though not in name. He answered official correspondence, heavily influencing the direction Britain took, necessarily using his persuasion on Victoria herself, as well.
My idea of the romance between Victoria and Albert was smashed by the reading of this book. Certainly, they loved each other, and when Albert died Victoria was devastated. Only, she was one for indulging herself in deep mourning, almost taking pleasure in its austerity, judging from her reactions to other deaths in the family. It's all riveting and shocking, not at all the story I was expecting. Fascinating stuff. During this year of the celebration of Dickens's 200th it's a wonderful addition to my reading, thanks to Library Journal!
And should you read an LJ blurb on the back of the finished U.S. edition that would be ME. The first time I saw a quotation from myself in the guise of Library Journal (individuals aren't credited) I was taken aback, I was so impressed. I told the person I was with, "I wrote this review, so I know I said this, but I don't remember it!"
So it goes as a review churner-outer. I expect I'm all over the place and don't know it. I'm too focused on what's next I seldom look back, though I may wish otherwise someday. Ah, but it will still be there now, won't it.
On to Dickens (happy birthday in a month and a day, old chap!) and Bleak House! It's a huge, huge book – weighing in between 900 + and 1,000 + pages depending on the edition – and I'm just past the middle reading it on my new Kindle Fire.
Until last night I was so proud I'd been keeping all 5,000 characters straight, then I hit a scene in which I had no concept on earth what had just happened, nor did I recognize to whom it did. I soldiered on, hoping it would come clear but then it never did after another 50 or so pages.
The remedy for that will be a quick look at Spark Notes or the equivalent, which I believe an excellent resource when you're actually reading – or have read – the primary work and have a question to be answered. Because falling behind in a Dickens novel is a serious thing, indeed.
This is at least my second read of BH, if not my third. I can't keep anything straight I live in such a muddle of books. I'm not as irritated with Esther Summerson this time around (reserving that feeling for Ada, the long-suffering fool), and far more annoyed with Richard Carstone. Mrs. Jellyby is still a nuisance of a thing I'd love to slap, and her Peepy adorable beyond words as a background character you can't help but love, the poor duck.
I just don't remember the covers of the book being so far apart,or the distance between mentions of Lady Dedlock separated so much. If this were a modern book I'd be screaming WHERE IS THE EDITOR?! but it's funny with Dickens I push through all the diversions.
But I honestly don't recall all these side-plots… The Smallweeds and granddaughter Judy, for one, though any scene featuring them is grimly hilarious. Old Smallweed is tossed around, as an elderly invalid, but the reader feels no sympathy at all for the calculating old coot. When he's pushed too close to the fire and his stockings begin to burn the reader almost wishes he'd been pushed a little closer.
Nasty old thing.
And here's a wonderful link with Bleak House illustrations in case you're looking for them and you hopefully will be someday, if not today.
So, having lots of fun with this but I'm getting a little nervous about finishing on time for the group discussion in another week or so. I read 'til I can't keep my eyes open every, single night and get through hundreds of pages but did I mention the book is VERY LONG?
And don't even ask me what's up and coming or I'll slip into a coma. A publicist for Barry Unsworth sent me a note asking if I'll review his new one, The Quality of Mercy, coming out January 10. Well, if I can I love to post a review right as a book's debuting and though this one's not so chunky as BH it's still over 300 pp. of thoughtful reading, with the Victoria and Albert review due January 8, no less.
Next week I'm attending a signing for Sara Levine (and three other writers but never mind that…), author of Treasure Island!!! with which I had mixed reading success. For her I'll be working up a review-y, maybe interview-y thing for local papers, plus of course the blog. With photos, video if possible but don't hold your breath.
As if that's not enough to make a woman a raving lunatic, my library is hosting a TREMENDOUSLY PROLIFIC BIG NAME AUTHOR during National Library Month in April and I've, to date, read only one of her 20ish books. SO I WILL NEED TO REMEDY THAT. And she may be bringing along another writer, first book coming out in May, and I NEED TO LAY MY GRUBBY HANDS ON A COPY OF THAT AS WELL.
And no, that's not all that's between January and April, just all I'm willing to type.
I may not come up for air until June, during which I'll have roughly two weeks to cry piteously until time to gear up once again and read the works of NUMEROUS WRITERS I WILL BE MEETING AT BOOKTOPIA 2012 in Oxford, MS.
For all or most of these writers my work will include much of my usual services. Of COURSE there's much joy and rapture in all my endeavors – or damned if I'd do it – but it makes my brain feel squeezy sometimes, you must understand. Occasionally it becomes so squeezy all the blood flees my brain, my head flops to the side and I stare at nothing for hours until someone comes along and pushes me over, allowing my blood to again flow freely. Then I eat chocolate and all is right with the world.
So all this is a very round-about way of saying, "Gosh I'm busy." You could have just read this last bit and avoided everything else. Makes you want to kick yourself, doesn't it?