Friday, May 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 5.2 (Thomas Hardy)

Hardy, Thomas
The Return of the Native


Not sure If I bought this in Buffalo or New York. I have a vivid memory of the opening chapters, in which a man appears covered in red ink. That, however, is all I remember, which leads me to believe I may not have finished reading the whole thing. A common occurrence, sadly.

I have been reading a lot of novels in the past few years and I more often than not finish them -- my usual reading habit is to take on five books at once, finishing none of them. Nowadays, I tend to take on long novel projects, especially in winter. I read them at night over the course of several weeks or months, depending on how long they are. In between I revert to my normal promiscuous reading habits. I go to bed with five books of poetry or theory or history or whatever else next to my bed and I sample them for several nights until I sink into my next book.

Then, I focus. I plow through to the end.

Lately I have even taken to completing novels I put down for a while, something I never used to do. I started reading Javier Marias' Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí back in November, after having spent the summer reading his massive trilogy, Tu rostro mañana. I was feeling pretty good about my Spanish, reading page after page of Marias' Proustian sentences without consulting a dictionary, so I decided to go right into another one.

I read a hundred pages or so, then got stuck. I put the novel down. I read something else -- Anna Karenina, I think. I picked it up again. I got stuck again. I cleared up some of my confusion by consulting the English translation. I picked it up again. I stopped. I read selections from Bill Berskon's The Sweet Singer of Modernism. I read Madame Bovary. Winter was slowly turning into spring. I ordered a copy of a novel by Cesar Aira called Fragmentos de un diario en los Alpes. I read that. Suddenly my Spanish felt strong again. I opened the Marias book for the third, maybe even the fourth time. I finished it just the other day.

Frankly, I was amazed I could jump back into the book like that after such a long hiatus -- fortunately, not a whole lot actually happens in Marias' novels, and when something does happen, it unfolds very slowly and in great detail, sort of like a Chantal Akerman film, so that by the time you've finished reading a scene, you feel almost as if you had experienced it yourself.

Which, I guess, has little or nothing to do with Thomas Hardy, but everything to do with why I read novels.

from The Return of the Native

When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van, ordinary in shape, but singular in colour, this being a lurid red. The driver walked beside it; and, like his van, he was completely red. One dye of that tincture covered his clothes, the cap upon his head, his boots, his face, and his hands. He was not temporarily overlaid with the colour; it permeated him.

The old man knew the meaning of this. The traveller with the cart was a reddleman--a person whose vocation it was to supply farmers with redding for their sheep. He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex, filling at present in the rural world the place which, during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which generally prevail.

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