Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reading on Metro

This morning on the commute to work I sat next to a man who was reading Hemingway's The Green Hills of Africa. Last night I sat next to a woman who was reading a Garcia-Marquez novel whose title I did not see. Yesterday morning I sat down the way from a man reading Turgenev's First Love in the handsome Melville House edition. Most of my fellow commuters, of course, were looking at Facebook on their cell phones. A dozen or so were reading on little tablet devices, e-readers or whatever. Me? I am almost finished with the first book of a four-part science fiction series that began impressively and has dissolved into insignificance and foolishness. I don't see me diving straight in on the second book. I think I'll read Chekhov's plays again instead, especially as the next story I write for the Antosha in Prague project will be in the form of a one-act comic stage play. What larks for me.

10 comments:

  1. Scott, that is an interesting observation, especially since it underscores the notion that some readers (but too few) still turn to the books from the past rather than the flavor of the day on the bestseller lists. And isn't it interesting to note that so many durable books were sometimes not very well embraced by either readers or critics in their own time. Moby-Dick comes to mind. And a few of Garcia-Marquez's books (excepting One Hundred Years of Solitude and -- my all time favorite -- Love in the Time of Cholera) never made much of a mark in the American market compared to American bestsellers except among academics and discerning readers. And when you get to Chekhov's plays, I look forward to your commentary.

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    1. Well, you know, people have usually always read the flavor of the day. We tend to think all the Victorians were reading Dickens, but they were reading forgotten writers like Meredith, Reade, Kingsley, Maryat, Martineau, Ainsworth, Bulwer Lytton, Madden and Mackay and even PT Barnum. After Dickens, while Stevenson was being published people were reading Margaret Oliphant, James Payn and Rhoda Broughton's sensation novels. Then along came Marie Corelli (Charles Mackay's daughter) who outsold everyone of her day, including Kipling.

      But I'm always pleased to see people reading instead of staring at twitter or facebook. I'm always pleased to see people reading authors I admire.

      Don't look for any commentary about Chekhov's plays! I'm just reading them for my own reading, and to pick up style points from his later works. Though we just saw "Three Sisters" last Friday, and it was excellent, deeply moving and beautiful. The student paper here at the university panned the play, the knuckleheads. "What a downer. I don't get why these people are so unhappy." The start of Act III, with the fire in town, was electric, highly exciting, heart-pounding stuff. Amusingly enough, the audience that night was packed with Russians, of all ages.

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    2. What I forgot to say is that the flavor of the day is what keeps publishers in business, so I don't begrudge any of it. Most people have never wanted to read the books that end up enduring.

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  2. Students in my past courses have similarly reacted to Chekhov's plays (e.g., The Cherry Orchard). Then I have tried to redirect their analysis in terms of "comedy" -- Dantean, Shakespearean, and Chekhovian rather than Saturday Night Live or Dumb and Dumber varieties -- but have won only a few converts. Perhaps this is an age and contexts issue. Or there might be some other things going in the under-30 culture that are too complex and profound for my mind. In any case, my experience informs me that college students misread Chekhov. So the student critic's assessment comes as no surprise. Of course, even Stanislavsky misread and misdirected Chekhov, and Chekhov impatiently tried to correct him.

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    1. Most college students, I dare to claim, have yet to experience the disappointments and frustrations of real life, and can't grasp the idea of losing one's identity, losing one's home, or loss in general. "The Cherry Orchard" is a masterpiece, heartbreaking. The comedy angle is good, very important, especially with Chekhov. I always think of Byron's "and if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'tis that I shall not weep." Again, most college students haven't really lived yet, though I remember that when I was that age, my every waking moment seemed aflame with urgency and import. Hahaha. Chekhov bored me then, too. I recognize the college critic's complaints as my own, then. "Nothing happens." I could go on about the importance of the awareness of tragedy to the growth of empathy and Chekhov's urgings to kindness, but I won't.

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  3. It's probably been 20 years, but I still often think of a woman I saw on the subway trying to repress her laughter while reading The Thurber Carnival. Kindle (other peoples') is robbing me of some of my commuting enjoyment.

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    1. It really annoys me that I can't see what people read on those things. I read somewhere that usually it's pornography or fan fiction (or pornographic fan fiction) but I have no idea how anyone could know that.

      I'd love to see someone reading Thurber on the bus. Or Shakespeare.

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  4. In my place I usually see people reading Jo Nesbø or some other crime writers (that is, if they're not staring at their phones, which is most of the time). And a few times saw someone with 50 Shades.
    I keep thinking that if I found somebody holding a book by a favourite author of mine, I would approach and talk to them, but that has never happened.

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    1. While reading this comment on the commute home, I looked up to see my seatmate reading George RR Martin, a guy across the aisle reading a collection of Richard Brautigan stories, and a guy in the seat ahead of him reading some mass market thriller whose name I couldn't make out. Sometimes I'm tempted to talk to people about the books they're reading (I saw a kid reading Portis a year ago and I was just delighted), but I restrain myself. I don't want to be the weird old guy on public transportation. People do not ride Metro to have conversations with strangers, at least not people I want to meet.

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  5. It's nice to see people reading some great stuff, I'll bet! Talking to Becca, she is knee-deep in a fantasy series she liked at first and now hates, but feels she needs to finish just for the sake of finishing. I don't have that much patience. I just give up. :)

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