Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Backsliding, sort of

I was just looking back over my reading journal, which has slowly gone from an actual physical journal I keep, to being supplemented by this blog, to being almost entirely electronic. I'm not sure I like this transition, but I find it hard enough to keep up even online, plus my reading seems to dwindle more each passing year. For one thing I am reading books that tend to be much longer and denser, and I've had a lot less free time on my hands since this spring, when I started doing music writing on the side.

I spend many evenings doing research, listening to new music, and going to shows and writing reviews. I've seen some pretty cool stuff and got a chance to talk to some musicians that I really admire. It was surreal to chat with Gordon Lightfoot, for example. I've also discovered some great singers and songwriters (for myself, I mean, not "launched their careers") like Joe Pug and Vandaveer. I also enjoyed getting to see and review all of Kentucky Opera's season this year -- I Pagliacci/Cavalleria Rusticana, The Elixir of Love, and Madame Butterfly. Speaking of surreal, I also found myself in the photo pit snapping pictures of Justin Bieber. That was weird. But.. I digress.

I've been meandering through my anthology of classical lit -- I'm only up to Aeschylus -- and although I'm moving pretty slowly, I enjoy it when I get to settle down long enough to read through a section. I definitely would enjoy reading Herodotus more thoroughly, and Pindar's verse. But, I think I'm ready for another novel, and the only question is whether it's going to be something I've had lying around for awhile or embarking on the big winter project of Musil's A Man without Qualities. It may not be time for that one quite yet. I could join my brother in tackling Anna Karenina. Tolstoy always seems right for winter...or I could make myself finish Helprin's Winter's Tale, which I sputtered out on in July. It was obviously not a good match for the season.

This week, however, I'm all about food, so it won't be decided. I'm hosting a holiday party and I spend an inordinate amount of time planning my dishes, my shopping, my prep, and getting all crafty like Martha Stewart (in my dreams).

Monday, November 08, 2010

Reading the classics

On a whim, I read an early John Updike novel called The Centaur, which is partly a retelling of the myth of Chiron, the wise and gentle centaur of Greek myth, who was a a willing sacrifice to the gods to expiate the sin of Prometheus. In the novel, Chiron is high school science teacher George Caldwell, who also coaches the swim team, a lovable loser, convinced of his own inferiority, but devoted to his seventeen-year-old son, Peter. The novel covers three winter days in Pennsylvania in 1947, alternating between Peter's realistic perspective (recalled as an adult) and the third-person prose that weaves the traditional and mythic narrative of the characters and events. In this, as in all of Updike's novels, there is poetry intermixed with the gritty details of the mundane. He describes a gathering winter storm:

The town of white roofs seems a colony of deserted temples; they feather together with distance and go gray, melt. Shale Hill is invisible. A yellownes seeps upward. From the zenith a lavender luminosity hangs pulseless, as if the particular brilliance of the moon and stars had been dissolved and the solution shot through with a low electric voltage. The effect, of tenuous weight, of menace, is exhilarating....Upward countercurrents suspend snow which then with the haste of love flies downward to gravity's embrace; the alternations of density conjure an impression of striding legs stretching upward into infinity. The storm walks. The storm walks but does not move on.
Reminded of how I always loved Greek mythology, and feeling the lack of an actual classical education, in which I would have picked up at least a smattering of Greek or Latin and read some of the great philosophers, I checked out Bernard Knox's Norton Book of Classical Literature to ease my way into some of the ancient writers. I've read Homer and Virgil and some of the plays, but going back into these unfamiliar poems and essays, it's been marvelous to recognize again, how timeless the writing is -- how common the concerns are and how "modern" they sound still, these fragments and scraps from centuries before Christ and Rome's grandeur. I keep coming across little gems that I want to post here, which I'll try to do in the next few days.