Lately when folk ask me what I’ve been reading, I’ve come up short. It used to be a fairly normal and easy thing for me to read a hundred new books a year—a mix of popular fiction and serious with generous additions of non-fiction and comics. The last couple of years, reading time gave way to school work and since finishing the degree, I’ve started but usually not finished much pleasure reading. Part of difficulty is that much of what I used to read to fill my downtime doesn’t hold my attention anymore. This stalemate has happened in the past and it’s usually broken when I become interested in a new genre or a new topic: mystery novels gave way to manga; Antarctic exploration gave way to Canadian communists.
No sign yet of a new topic, largely because my thinking brain is taken up with adding to what I understand about the possibilities of my new profession. There’s a project brewing that builds on archival work I did over the summer but I’m not sure yet what shape it needs to take to be useful to others or to be publishable. I suspect it will need many more hours in the archives and more time spent working out theoretical and historical underpinnings.
Over the holiday season I have the luxury of time off but instead of working out those underpinnings, I’ve given myself the gift of sleep and idle time. Our holidays have always been spent very simply: the most visible outward signs that the routines have shifted would be the overflowing compost bowl and the new stacks of books. The largely idle days have been filled with reading.
Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch was once again amusing and I still regret giving away my heap of Pratchett novels as part of the pre-move down sizing.
Caroline Moorehead’s A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France has sad and hard subject material but is marred by repetitive writing and an avoidance some of the intrinsically difficult questions that come with survivors’ accounts. A review which I’ve lost track of has pointed me to Charlotte Delbo’s accounts which I might pick up in the New Year. As well, I’m curious about whether any history of book folk have looked at the ways in which the resistance created and circulated pamphlets, posters, and newspapers in Paris during the Occupation.
Pat Barker’s Union Street has been on my to read list for a long time. It’s grown on me: I’m not generally a fan of short stories and Union Street is very much a collection of linked stories organized by the age of each story’s protagonist. What grew on me and will likely lead to a re-reading is the opening story which contains parts of all the other stories.
I was very impressed with one of James Meek’s earlier novel (The People’s Act of Love) and was looking forward to The Heart Broke In. Its portraits of sexual misconduct at the BBC, the excesses of celebrity culture and tabloid journalism, and the clashes between fundamental religious beliefs and scientific thinking resonate rather well with recent episodes in Britain. All in all, it left me a little cold — partly I suspect because I wasn’t in the mood for social satire in which the unpleasant, usually male characters, drown out the not quite so unpleasant female characters.
And tonight I’ve finished Toni Morrison’s Home, with its echoes of Marilynne Robinson, is going to need a re-read and a long think. It’s deceptively simple.