[ilds] 1957 novels

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Tue Aug 7 09:19:43 PDT 2007


Hello all,

As I think I may have recounted here, last year when I was teaching the 
_Quartet_ in one of my courses, I sat down on the bus next to a young 
woman what was finishing the last very pages of _Clea_.  I assumed from 
the book that she was a student I (shamefully) didn't recognize, but 
that wasn't the case.  We have a nice chat, though I didn't interrupt 
her reading in those last pages.  She read them because her mother said 
they were "great books."  Sadly, it was the Penguin edition...

Oddly, my actual senior English students seemed to have trouble getting 
through the book that their peer in Biology read for fun.  I did, 
admittedly, have them reading the _Quartet_ right after Lessing's _The 
Golden Notebook_, so exhaustion may have played a role.  Humm.

That said, reading a book for the act of being seen reading it is 
certainly a passing phenomenon.  Yet, we do have critics recounting 
exactly this experience with Durrell (anecdotes from Said and Eagleton 
that have been posted here, as well as Charlie's comments on Stoney, & 
co.).  The last time I had major comments while reading on the bus, it 
was back when I was at UBC on a 2 hour commute from the Fraser Valley -- 
everyone noticed (and made some silly comment on) _Clarissa_ and _The 
Avignon Quintet_.  I first read _Jude the Obscure_ on the same bus.  The 
iPod (which I like) is the antithesis of this -- it is a private 
experience without a dustjacket.  I can listen to an audio book, but my 
fellow commuters have no idea if I'm listening to the Arkangel 
Shakespeare recordings or a new boyband.  I personally regret the 
diminution of conversations on public transit that I've noticed since we 
all switched from books & papers to something with earphones.

How are those anecdotes, Charles?

Best,
James

slighcl wrote:
> On 8/7/2007 8:38 AM, Marc Piel wrote:
>> Surely little has changed???
> In some ways, yes; in some ways, no.
>
> One significant change:  The very idea that a young person would use a 
> _book _as a self-conscious emblem of difference or of belonging has 
> changed. 
>
> That is, in a certain moment, merely to be seen reading Durrell's 
> /Justine /or Kerouac's /On the Road/ or Ginsberg's /Howl /(or Camus, 
> Sartre, &c. &c.) would allow others to recognize that a certain sort 
> of book makes for a certain sort of person.
>
> For example, consider how book signify in the following lyrics, 
> written by one of the poets of my home state:
>
>     I first ran into Stoney. . . it was a bar downtown;
>     Was Richmond, Virginia. . . we were bumming around,
>     Suitcase to suitcase. . . we started him talking,
>     Finding out about the things we've shared in the miles we've been.
>
>     He had *a gray pillowcase full of books by Durrell,*
>     And he had this old concertina, all beat up and she played like hell,
>     Until you got him started singing those Gospel songs,
>     Well, he drank all night for nothing, he told his stories till dawn.
>
> Just with that one gloss, we feel we know quite a bit about that 
> friendly-looking stranger walking up to the bar.  A man of mystery, 
> adventure, travel, and stories.  (Some on the list will know even more!)
>
> Or consider the way books and authors stand out in the following late 
> 1950s Paris scene penned by Cortázar:
>
>     Surrounded by boys in baggy sweaters and delightfully funky girls
>     in the smoke of the cafés-crème of Saint-Germain-des-Prés who read
>     *Durrell, Beauvoir, Duras, Douassot, Queneau, Sarraute*, here I am
>     a Frenchified Argentinian (horror of horrors), already beyond the
>     adolescent vogue, the cool, with an /Etous-vous fous/? of René
>     Crevel anachronistically in my hands, with the whole body of
>     surrealism in my memory, with the mark of Antonin Artaud in my
>     pelvis, with the Ionisations of Edgard Varèse in my ears, with
>     Picasso in my eyes (but I seem to be a Mondrian, at least that's
>     what I've been told).
>
> In America, at least, I think that young people no longer have that 
> degree of interest or ability to use "/that Book/" as a sign of 
> recognition.  Even at university, I think, the iPods &c. have replaced 
> the Significant Well-Thumbed Paper-Back.  Times change. 
>
> I exaggerate quite a bit.  I spoke last semester with a student who 
> surprised me greatly when she said that Hardy and Dostoevsky were her 
> private, personal readings of choice.  She was earnest; I could 
> understand her sincerity because she said these books only made her 
> all the more lonely around her peer-group, who do everything but 
> read.  I was surprised because I rarely get the sense, even from very 
> good English majors, that passionate reading is cultivated and 
> fostered by youth individually or communally.  Although it perhaps 
> happened in the past and no doubt happens still in small select groups 
> in small select locales (Burlington, Boulder, Berkeley, Portland, 
> Madison, Austin, Charlottesville, Union Square Park, &c.), I have 
> difficulty imagining most young Americans getting together to drink 
> away the night and discuss books in the way that I have experienced 
> that.  No doubt they never really did.  Cf. Oedipa Maas in Pynchon's 
> /Lot 49/.
>
> Yet it could perhaps happen online in web communities that breakdown 
> the distances between readers.  Thus the ILDS listserv.
>
> Now in London &c., it may be different.  But I think that Londoners on 
> the train do not pick up their paperbacks or papers in order to be 
> seen.  Rather that reading is a protective screening from the general 
> press.  If only the Tube had enough elbow space these days to hold a 
> paperback for reading.
>
> I will look forward to the anecdotes.
>
> Charles
> -- 
> **********************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Department of English
> Wake Forest University
> slighcl at wfu.edu
> **********************
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