Did I Mention, I Read Too Many Books at Once?

I guess I’d rather be reading than writing about it. I remember reading in a book by Larry McMurtry (either Books: A Memoir* or Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen* if I recollect correctly) a statement to the effect that as he gets older, he is more keenly aware that the time he has left to read books is growing more limited. And time spent writing books takes away from time spent reading them. I get it. So every time I see my category “What I’m Reading,” I think I really ought to do a post. And then I just keep on reading whatever it is that I’m reading.

So I was fairly well through The Scent of New-Mown Hay* (of the mutant mushroom women mentioned in a previous post), when I started reading other novels as well. The mushroom women were a little bit of a let down. Some lurid covers (mine is a chaste yellow hardbound library book) lead one to expect firm-gluted amazons spanking spectacled solicitors … alas. It’s a typical early cold war setup, but in a twist, the human responsible for these weird mutations is a former Nazi, not a commie. The writing is not great. I still need to read the last 30 pages.

the scent of new mown hay

But I started Titus Groan,* the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy. This writing is very good indeed. It’s very poetic in places and has a kind of baroque feel overall. It seems like some weird late-nineteenth century book, but it’s really from the mid-twentieth century (sort of like the drawings of Edward Gorey seem Victorian, though they’re not). And Peake was an artist, too. The old Ballantine paperback I’m reading is illustrated by him. The characters are strangely broken down eccentrics, if not outright monsters (I’m thinking of the chef Swelter). Strange character names, of which I’m a big fan,* are the norm (Prunesquallor, Sourdust, Lord Sepulchrave, and Nannie Slagg). All the characters seem tormented, as if they suffer from chronic anal boils … this aspect of the novel, and some of the writing, reminds me of the early novels of Samuel Beckett. With all of this to recommend it, I cracked another book.


I couldn’t resist Hear the Wind Sing,* Murakami’s first novel. It has been sitting on my desk since I got it, tempting me. I gave in. Murakami doesn’t like his first novels so much. And admittedly this one is a bit thinner in every respect. But it’s still Murakami and it’s still great. The book introduces the character the Rat, who appears in A Wild Sheep Chase* (my copy is missing … did I lend it to someone?). The novel is narrated by Murakami’s usual drifting first-person narrator. The music and pop culture and dissatisfaction with reigning social conventions are already there. But so far, there is no real fantastic element, as there is in much of his work (I am about halfway through).

And speaking of the fantastic, I have just started Michael Saler’s As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality,* a study of how works of fantastic literature came to be the dominant books to readers (but not academics). I got it based on a review by a former professor, Tom Shippey. I won’t say anymore about it, because I just started and because Shippey’s review is such a good one. So just read that.