Books mentioned in this post:
Various biographies of the Brontes
Someone Like You by Roald Dahl
White Noise by Don DeLillo
What passes for literary criticism these days are underlined or bracketed passages, words penned in the margins of books I’m reading. Occasionally, I’ll take a picture of a particularly striking passage, or the front cover of a book I’m reading or came across and needed to hold just to feel its heft, and I’ll post that on Instagram. Once upon a time, I thought and wrote deeply about literature almost every day. I miss that luxury, never imagined it one day wouldn’t be.
On normal weeks I work 9.5 hour days – and half-day Saturdays, ugh – in life insurance/finance, which stretches my brain in directions liberal arts majors just don’t go. Numbers hurt my head. Talking to people about their medical histories and financial needs, empathizing and occasionally de-escalating situations, drains me. I can hardly form sentences by the time I get home. I talk and talk, listen and interpret, advise and analyze, for hours and hours. My life is mentally exhausting.
Of necessity, most of my reading time comes when I’m exhausted, at night before sleep, or on my precious and all too rare days off. My bed is scattered with books. Some women have men in their beds; right now I don’t even have sheets on my mattress (I’m lucky they made it through the washer and dryer, much less back where they belong) but I do have six or seven books, most of them open face down on the side I suppose a significant other would occupy, if I were a girl who said yes. In place of a human bed warmer, there are pens and notebooks. They don’t steal my blankets or snore, demand I turn off the light and get to sleep, or comment how every night I leave my day clothes where they fall on the floor, looking like I’ve been Raptured right out of them.
Laundry is what Sundays are for.
Of my current reading, my interest in all things Brontë continues, my bed straining to suport huge, fat biographies and collections of their letters. Funny, none of their novels have made it under the duvet. I’ve read them all, and they’re due for re-reads, but it’s the lives of this family I’m obsessed with at the moment: Charlotte the sensible and serious intellectual, Emily the turbulent wild child, Anne the gentle aesthete, Branwell the Byronic un-hero and dramatic alcoholic, plus Patrick the glue that binds.
I love them to distraction.
“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Shirley
In short bursts, I’m reading a collection of Roald Dahl’s stories, with varying degrees of success. Some have power, but others honestly don’t impress me. The 21st century leaves a person jaded; we have enough real horror every day to beat the fictional imaginings of several decades ago, when life was in many ways so innocent.
Not all fiction holds up well. I read Dahl’s stories with the anticipation something big will happen before the end, waiting for that twist I hope will come. When it doesn’t, the let down is exasperating. Yet, I’m left wanting more, the potential of the next story’s promise keeps me reading. So he can’t be doing everything wrong.
On a totally different front, there’s Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, a damned brilliant, very American novel and a work that couldn’t be more different from the Brontës and Roald Dahl. I started it while on the StairMaster, of all places, just about the least reading-friendly activity there is, but a necessity preparation since I’m planning an all-night round-trip drive to Cleveland, just to hear him speak for maybe an hour at most. No signing, no meet and greet, chance to touch hands or lock eyes. No, just a talk by an iconic, somewhat reclusive American man of letters.
Yes, you read that correctly, and I’ve done the math. It’s twelve hours of driving for a one-hour talk given by a writer whose work I’ve read very little of, though what I’ve read impresses me to the core. Like you, I find that completely and utterly irrational and insane. It’s impulsive and impractical – rather wonderful, if you want my opinion. Life doesn’t give you a lot of second chances. Sometimes opportunity whispers and you turn a deaf ear. At others, you tilt your head toward it and listen, really hearing what it has to say. I’ve regretted turning the deaf ear, but almost never the listening.
“Sometimes I see something so moving I know I’m not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave.”
― Don DeLillo, Underworld
I learned about this literary event serendipitously, realizing immediately it’s a rare, one-off opportunity. Don DeLillo doesn’t speak in public, hasn’t for ages, but he’ll be in Cleveland on Tuesday, September 13. And Tuesdays happen to be my days off. It’s a 6-hour drive to Cleveland, so if I leave Chicago early on Tuesday I’ll easily make it before his evening presentation at around 7 or 7:30. The place will be swept and cleared, his discarded water bottle at room temperature in the trash can before 9:00 strikes. By that time I’ll be back in the car, headed home. If the wind’s with me, by 4:00 a.m. I’ll be back home in my bed. And at 10:30 the same morning, I’ll be back in my cubicle, on the phone, talking to people about planning for their eventual deaths.
This, friends, is why I’m unmarriageable. Because I’m impulsive and a little crazy, inclined to listen to that little voice of unreason. Yes, I’m a responsible adult, but I pledge never, ever to grow up.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bed to crawl into, and worlds to explore before I sleep.
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
― Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald