Sometimes I miss the privilege of strolling through the fiction section of a bookstore, finding something that looks interesting by an author I don’t know, purchasing it, and reading it without guilt.
Obviously I can read contemporary novels. And I do, once in a while. But for the most part I feel guilty about reading anything published after, say 1920. And really anything in the 1900s is pushing it, unless it’s written by Kipling or Barrie or Forster or something. I’ve grown accustomed to sweeping my eye along the shelf, looking for the red-and-white Oxford Press editions, the black and orange Penguins, the bronze and black Modern Libraries, the oversized and distinctive Norton editions. (I’m a big edition snob. Borders can keep their Borders Classics. Don’t even get me started on Barnes and Noble.)
There are a few contemporary authors I’ve been reading off and on lately. I’ve accumulated a few books by T. C. Boyle and Don DeLillo. Danny gave me David Lodge’s Author Author, which I still haven’t read… but I think I can tackle that one without guilt, because it’s about Henry James. I’m still planning on picking up The Road and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and Sophie and I have had a few brief discussions about Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve been tempted to buy Francine du Plessix Gray’s Them: A Memoir of Parents a few times. But for the most part, if Victoria wasn’t alive (or in recent memory) when it was written, it’s dead to me.
How sad and narrow my reading habits have become.
And sometimes when a friend asks me for a reading recommendation, I really want to tell them to read Bleak House. Which is just mean. But it’s so good. And while they’re at it, they should read Vanity Fair, which — contrary to Reese Witherspoon’s interpretation — does not involve a sequin-bikini slave dance.* And if they’re really feeling ambitious, they should read The Ring and the Book. Or if they’re in the mood for something a little lighter, try some Wilkie Collins, of the large and luminous forehead… The Moonstone or The Woman in White.
But really. I should emerge from my cave once in a while and let my eyes adjust to 2008.
*Although I do approve of Gabriel Byrne as Steyne. Mmmmm. Gabriel Byrne.