Novel Binges

I appear to have slowed down on these entries. I’ll take a moment here for meta-logging (a log entry about my log) to note that the reason I’m writing less is that I’m reading more.

For the last several years I’ve been going on reading binges, reading a bunch of a particular writer’s novels in a row. At present, I seem to be bingeing on George Eliot. In fact it is the English writers, and particularly the English writers of the 19th and early 20th, that most often get me this way.

It started a few years ago. When I was in school, of course I had to read what they told me, and that was almost always an academic variety of works. But in graduate school there were seminars, of course, offering complete immersion into an author’s canon. I remember reading everything Jane Austen ever wrote inside of three months. I guess that approach stuck with me.

Let’s see – it began a few years ago with Nabokov. I finally read Lolita and decided it was the greatest novel I’d ever read (a frequent occurrence). Then I picked up Glory, then Ada (an amazing novel, really unlike any other), and then King, Queen, Knave. After all that, it was natural to move on to Speak, Memory, his great autobiography. Then when I finally got hold of it (a nicely bound copy, a present from my wife) I read Pale Fire, which is truly astounding literature.

Vladimir Nabokov is a literary genius. That’s all there is to it. Those Russians are incredible thinkers.

Next, I think, was Graham Greene. I had read Brighton Rock in college and loved it. So in quick succession I read The Quiet American, The Heart of the Matter, Our Man in Havana, The Comedians, and recently The 10th Man. Six books about jealousy and infidelity. Are they all about that? Doesn’t matter.

Thomas Hardy, anyone? I had loved Tess of the D’urbevilles, so followed with Return of the Native, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. All fine novels, but too much Hardy is dangerous, so I stopped there for now. (If you’ve read much of him, I’ll trust you to know what I mean.)

Last summer I read The Hobbit followed by the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy without stopping. That was great fun. I felt like a fugitive from Middle Earth by the time I was done.

Then came my Canadian period. I loved Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries, so followed it with Larry’s Party. Then Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin – a real melancholy treat – followed immediately by her take on The Robber Bride (good but not great). It was a rare excursion into modernity.

And lately it’s been George Eliot. I’ve grown pretty much obsessed with her. I re-read Middlemarch first, really savoring it after rushing through it in college. Then Silas Marner, and now I’m heavily into The Mill on the Floss.

I’ve read other stuff in between these binges, but the binges have kind of characterized the reading pattern. I sometimes wonder if I’m being methodical or just lazy. But I don’t wonder too much. It’s all great, and I need to read as much of it as I can. It is an addiction I recommend.

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