I’ve been reading a lot lately, but haven’t had much of a chance to post about any of it, so this is going to be a mass posting about several books I’ve read lately. (As in, during the past few months, the ones that come to mind only.)
Okay, let’s see. First in importance come two graphic novels I’ve read in French: Paul a un travail d’été, by Michel Rabagliati, and Volume 1 of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.
[…and here’s an odd note: both of the authors’ names begin and end with the same letter. Hmmm.]
The two graphic novels are as different as can be, in some ways, and yet I found some aspects of them surprisingly (or perhaps not so very surprisingly) resonant with one another. First, both were written in language so simple that even I could fully understand almost everything I read… which is good, because I read them during travels and so on.
The former novel is the story of a young man named Paul, who is the quintessential youth on the brink of adulthood, with no sense of what the hell to do with himself. He’s got a job he hates, and then he’s got no job, and then he’s got another job. It could happen anywhere, right? Well, except that this story is so absolutely Quebecois that it could only happen in Québec at the end of the 1970s… 1979, to be specific. As the friend who recommended the book to me said, Paul’s story is just so very Quebecois, so very familiar, and I can smell Montréal on the narrative, on the mind of Paul. It’s a sweet reminder of a place where I spent a few whole years of my life. But it’s more than that; it’s a genuinely powerful story, and while I didn’t outright cry, I was moved, very deeply, by several moments, especially toward the end. Rabagliati very understandably won a heap of awards for this book, which apparently should be out in English now.
The other book I read was a gift to me by the same friend who recommended the former comic; Jean-Louis insisted on sending Persepolis with me to Korea. (I haven’t forgotten and I am still thinking about what would be appropriate to send over to Québec City.) Like the story of Paul, this is an autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) narrative, and the tale is set at almost the same time as the events in the story of Paul. But the setting and events are, in comparison, quite foreign to me. The place is Iran, and the time is during the events surrounding the Revolution there. It’s the story of a little girl whose rather unusual family experienced a major fall during the “Islamic Revolution” there, falling far from their very privileged position. As one reviewerwait, that was Gloria Steinem!put it, the story is unique in that it has
the intimacy of a memoir, the irresistibility of a comic book, and the political depth of a the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy.
Reading this book, even more than having read The Watchmen, has made me feel that graphic novels can be a truly worthwhile literary genre, and that maybe someday, if I could find a collaborator, I might like to add one or two works to it as well. (Here’s an interview with Satrapi for those interested.) This book, like Paul…, is at times intensely moving and yet also heartening and very worthwhile.
Which, I will note, leaves me with two Asterix & Obelix comics and a Tintin comic to read, in French, plus a book of poems and a novel I got in Thailand which are all a little too hard for me. But, I did understand these comics, and I managed to get through a conversation in French with a Tunisian saleswoman just a few days ago (at the Bienniale Art Exhibition in Kwangju last weekend).
As for other reading, I’ve recently mentioned the Thomas Cahill book, How The Irish Saved Civilization, and with some strong reservations, I’d recommend it… if you can get a copy on the cheap, which you probably can considering how immensely popular it was. It was too short to warrant buying, but it is worth the few hours it takes to read it. I think Cahill buys into the myths of racial characteristics just a wee bit too much for my taste, even if he would likely credit social influence over any silly genetic argument. But his writing style is admirable and he paints some pretty compelling pictures of a few historical figures, mainly Augustine, Patricius (St. Patrick), and a monk named Columcille. The role that monastic communities played in the reconstruction of textual knowledge (and thus the preservation of classical literary culture in Europe, and the reintroduction of it into Europe at the dawn of the Middle Ages, instead of whenever the Arabs who had the same texts might have reintroduced it there) is very interesting, and something about Cahill’s writing on the subject was so prismatic as to suggest to me alternate realities where the Irish didn’t play this role. I was set about to trying to imagine how the face of the Earth would look if that had happened, but I still haven’t maaged anything too clear yet. But the Cahill is a compelling book, nonetheless.
I’ve also reread Bruce Sterling‘s wonderful novel Distraction, a book so excellent that if Ritu were not a good friend, I would keep it instead of sending it to her. Now I am trying to get through China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station: trying, not for lack of interest, as it is a fascinating and captivating novel, in its horribly drab, dark, sewer-stinking way. It’s just such a fat book that I prefer not to carry it about when I don’t have to. So I read it at home, and at the moment I carry about a much slimmer book, Seamus Heaney’s North, signed out of the University library. I’ve really been into Heaney since I got back from India, and all I’ve read of his work has been universally strong.
I also picked up a few free hardback copies of the famous Titus Crow novels by Brian Lumley, which were left in the free books pile at the local foreigner bar. I’d like to know who the SF/horror junkie in town is… but I am a little leery. While I liked some of Lumley’s Necroscope books, at some point I got sick of him and decided he was crappy. I think I just found him too dependent on Lovecraft, really. Well, we’ll see what I think of these novels; if they bore me, I won’t hesitate to return them to the free books pile, along with the one Wil McCarthy book I bought and didn’t enjoy enough to finish (it was his novel Bloom).
It strikes me I am reading more than I did last semester. Perhaps it’s because of my schedule, I’m not sure, but I am happy about it. And now, if I am to get a few pages in before bed, I should leave this computer alone and stick my nose back into the dark, fetid airs of Perdido Street Station.