Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A fine old ruin

Originally uploaded by jhhymas
This summer I have allowed myself to move in all sorts of directions with my reading--never being very careful to complete one line of investigation before starting another. I am not sure this has been really a good idea, but I have had a deal of fun with it so far. Never before have I had so many books lying about with bookmarks in them. I have read several works by Elias Canetti, a Nobel laureate about whom I had known nothing, most notably the three volume autobiography which I count as among the handful of truly excellent books that I have ever read.

I re-read Pedro Paramo, it’s still as mysterious and lovely as the first time. Through the edition with mysterious blurred photographs concerning the character Susana San Juan by Josephine Sacabo, I was led into the really fine photographs of Juan Rulfo himself as well as the Mexican photographs of Mariana Yampolsky. I revived my interest in Juan Felipe Herrera, and read many of his newer books including a lovely quasi-autobiographical picture book and some for young adults, in addition to his poetry and polemics.

Thinking I might again read War and Peace, which I first read in 1951, I found that the hot new translators Pevear and Volokhonsky were about to issue their new translation in October; I thought I might wait for that, despite having had really no quarrel with Constance Garnett. Then I decided to check out the translators P&V with Gogol's Dead Souls (which I adore) and two volumes of Chekhov (ditto.)
A friend's mention that she would like to read a book about the Yellowstone River reminded me of the Rivers Of America books that were lying about everywhere in my childhood; I think maybe some of them were Book of the Month Club selections. They got all sorts of poets and writers and historians to work on them, so there is really nothing uniform about the results. There is no volume on the Yellowstone; I sent for The Mohawk, The Brandywine, The Hudson and the Kennebec from the usual used-book sources, which have made following up whims like these almost too easy. The ones I got are quite dated and very different. The Brandywine has a great deal of family reminiscence and genealogy-bragging in it, as well as really terrible (who knew?) illustrations by the young Andrew Wyeth. I remember reading somewhere that Mrs. Wyeth said she would leave AW if he didn’t stop the illustration gigs and get more serious about his real art. As for the Mohawk, that is the river I saw almost every day for the first 17 years of my life. So this book is very interesting to me. The Hudson is good, too; I haven’t read the Kennebec yet. I wonder if I should be reading such old popular history books, because the information may not be first-rate, and much of it will have been superceded by new findings and theories. There is a little patronizing sentimentality in the treatment of American Indians, but it is a different kind than the kind we have now.

Reading these tomes, I am carried all the way back to places I used to read—in the apple tree in Scotia, for instance. The books have the look and smell of that time. The Brandywine is one of those paper-saving WW II editions. That carries me back, too.

We’ll leave the poetry for later. I know I am always promising something later that I do not return to . . . But I do have the hope of making this blog something that will be worth reading once I get the hang of it. Good night.

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