Saturday, September 10, 2016

on reading.

I gave up on a book recently: Apostle: Travel Among the Tombs of the Twelve, by Tom Bissell. The idea has promise, since a journey like that will take you all around the Mediterranean all the way to Rome, and conceivably in the other direction to India (where went my own patron saint, Thomas the Doubter). The author is an ex-Catholic, and his interest in the Apostles' tombs specifically is a little hazy, nor does he go into the fact that any tomb of impoverished sectarian outcasts from 2,000 years ago is probably as historical as King Arthur's.

The real flaw is that the book is dead. The writing is flat, grim; the writer seems to experience only despair and ennui, dragging himself along as though it were a self-inflicted punishment. Maybe he should have saved the money and taken a cruise ship to Bermuda, I don't know. You could scarcely ask for a more vivid and influential part of history to be traveling in, and there's no reason to do it with so little joy, let alone to inflict your joylessness on the world, with a book.

Life is short and I have lots of more enjoyable things to read. Plus Moby-Dick, which I will continue to recommend as the most high-quality soporific literature you can find. I remain ignorant of why anyone would heartily declare it the Great American Novel, but I do hear Shakespeare in the characters' mutterings. (The characterization per se has some issues: damned if I can remember anything to distinguish Starbuck and Stubb, from one page to the next.) Again, if you let go of any belief that a novel has a "plot" where "things happen or change," then the long, long, long, long sections describing whale anatomy, whale behavior, whale hunting, and whale butchery appear as educational signals to the reader that there's no story worth remembering here, so you don't have to worry about it.

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